Last year when I revisited The Simpsons Movie, I mused about the difficult position movies based on TV shows find themselves in. The leap to a new, loftier medium holds with it an expected increase in scope, to craft a story bigger and “better” than what you can accomplish in a TV show. However, the more you get away from the comfortable traditions and trappings of the series, the less it closely resembles like the source material. So it’s a very delicate tightrope act, where the movie almost feels like it needs to justify its purpose as an actual movie, without feeling too much unlike the TV show it’s based on. I briefly went over what I considered to be the successes and failures of this subsection of films, specifically adaptations of animated series, and how tricky it is to hit that sweet spot. Going over my best and worst list, I had one more entry in the back of my mind, a movie that had yet to be released, one of which I could only speculate where it would fall upon the scale: The Bob’s Burgers Movie.
I’ve always felt that Bob’s Burgers is as close to a spiritual successor to The Simpsons that we’ve got. The 2000s gave us the rise of Family Guy, which undoubtedly was largely inspired by The Simpsons, but its mission statement was more closely connected to the wave of crude adult animated shows budding off the likes of South Park and Beavis and Butt-head. But in 2011, we got Bob’s Burgers, a more gentle animated family sitcom that still reveled in the inherent weirdness of people. It’s much less cynical than prime Simpsons, and the Belchers are a more supportive and close knit family than the Simpsons, but their struggling working class status and tumultuous brushes with authority figures such as health inspectors, landlords or guidance counselors recalls early simple Simpsons stories involving family money trouble or Bart getting in trouble at school. Its sense of humor might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Bob’s Burgers quickly carved out a niche for itself with its charming characters and unique dialogue of snarky asides and puns. I was originally turned off by the show’s simplistic art style (as well as FOX featuring Gene’s fart noise megaphone in every single promo, which made me fear the worst for the show humor-wise), but quickly grew to love the show, feeling it to be a breath of fresh air in the primetime animated landscape. But that was a long time ago. Over a decade, in fact, even though thinking about that makes me feel like a decaying fossil.
Bob’s Burgers is about to enter its thirteenth season, with over 230 episodes under its belt. And as with all shows that run that long… it’s definitely not as good as it used to be. Unlike The Simpsons and (from what I hear) Family Guy, whose shows cratered the earth with their drop in quality, Bob’s slowly slid into a comfortable malaise. It felt like they had run out of the types of stories to tell, and now the show cycles through the same dozen or so basic premises and just shakes up the situations a bit. A new business hurdle for Bob, Louise’s scheming, Tina’s awkward courtships, Gene’s bizarre interests, a lot of episodes kind of feel like they’re treading over similar ground, with characters reacting in expected ways and making the same kinds of jokes over and over. I haven’t given up on the show yet, as it’s usually good for a few laughs per half hour, but I definitely find it hard to remember specific episodes from the past five or so years, with a few standout exceptions (an episode about Louise bonding with Bob over their shared inability to poop in public was, strangely, a recent highlight). It’s just what happens when any show runs this long, it’s inevitably going to grow a little stale unless you shake up the foundations a bit and actively try new things (South Park and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia being two of the most successful examples I can think of).
I was kind of surprised when they announced that a Bob’s Burgers movie was in production. Despite its lengthy run on the air, the show never felt like it was a massive hit, but having a decent sized devoted audience big enough for FOX to see fit to keep it on the air. I was intrigued as to how this show would make the leap to the big screen, and eager to see it… but it turned out to be a longer wait than I’d expected. The Bob’s Burgers Movie was originally intended for release in July 2020, but it was delayed for obvious reasons. Also muddying the waters was Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Studios, calling into questions whether the movie would even get a theatrical release at all. In the end, we finally got a May 2022 release date, and I finally went to see it. So, where does the movie end up on the TV adaptations scale? Is it a rousing success, or a spectacular failure? For me, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is plopped right smack in the middle of that scale.
The most basic critique I can give to the movie is that it just feels like an extra long episode of the show. An easy rebuke to this would be, “No shit, of course it feels like a long episode, what were you expecting?” And for some fans of the show, that’s all they really needed it to be. A lot of them loved it, and it’s got a decently high score on Letterboxd. And maybe I’m just a snobby prick who isn’t easy to please (guilty as charged!), but I think a movie should be more than that. With a longer runtime and larger format, you can take the elements of your show and expand upon them, plumbing greater narrative and emotional depths to push boundaries you just couldn’t in a mere episode of TV. Otherwise, why even make a movie to begin with? With the world that had been created within Bob’s Burgers‘ impressively long run on the air, there’s plenty established they could have run with in a feature-length format. But what we got is a story that feels like it could have easily been a two-parter of the TV show. Is it a bad movie? Not at all. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by it.
The film sets its plot in motion pretty quickly: Bob fails to get his business loan extended, leaving him a mere week to pay up or have his restaurant effectively shut down. An already difficult task is made even more impossible when an enormous sinkhole opens up in front of the restaurant, cutting off all potential customers. And if that weren’t bad enough, a dead body is discovered at the bottom of the hole, a beloved boardwalk carny named Cotton Candy Dan, with Calvin Fischoeder, Bob’s eccentric landlord and Wonder Wharf owner, being detained as the prime suspect. As Bob and Linda attempt to figure out a way to keep their business afloat to make the deadline, Louise, bristling from being called a baby on the schoolyard due to her trusty pink ears, corals Tina and Gene to help her solve the mystery of who killed Cotton Candy Dan, hoping to save her family’s business and prove her maturity in the process.
As far as Bob’s plots go, the restaurant in risk of being shut down and Louise wanting to prove she’s not just a kid are pretty commonplace, but that’s not exactly a strike against right out of the gate. I was enjoying the first thirty minutes or so quite a bit as Bob’s situation just got worse and worse, and his growing despair over how he was going to dig himself out of this ever deepening hole (ha ha). There’s two great scenes with just Bob and Linda where she tries to get him to stay positive, and they’re very effective and funny. Of all the inter-playing characters on the show, Bob and Linda have always been my favorite; Linda being a bright light of optimism shining through Bob’s woeful pessimism. Sadly, when we get to the second act, Bob and Linda get relegated to B-story status as the bulk of the film follows the Belcher kids as they try to crack the case of who killed Cotton Candy Dan. And I dunno, but a murder mystery about who killed a brand new character with no connection to our main characters doesn’t sound like much of a Bob’s Burgers movie to me. It’s ostensibly about saving the restaurant by saving Mr. Fischoeder, but it still feels too far removed from the family to make it feel like really personally matters to our heroes. It really only matters to Louise, but only as a point of pride in being “mature” enough to figure out whodunnit, with Tina and Gene acting as tagalongs, chiming up with expected commentary. They have their own minor C-stories (Tina wanting Jimmy Jr. to be her summer boyfriend, Gene trying to find a new sound to perform at the Wharf), but it really becomes the Louise movie, which is a bit weird. I kind of wish the plot of the movie was more directly about the family and kept them together more, since some of the funniest stuff in the show is the five of them reacting in their own ways and bouncing off each other.
While I’m certainly not judging this story as a serious murder mystery, considering it’s the main plot line of this movie, it’s not the meatiest premise to watch unfold. Our first stop is to visit the carnies, hoping the kids’ old pal Mickey will be a friendly conduit between the two groups, but not so much. Micky, along with being a beloved recurring character, feels like the perfect person to give this plot more weight and more connection to the Belchers, but he’s just in this one scene. Another carny gives Louise information about a fight involving Dan and Felix Fischoeder, leading him to be the prime suspect. A visit to Sgt. Bosco also gives them the info about a banana cuff link found on the victim, belonging to the real killer. Later, when in the Fischoeder’s secret room under the boardwalk, Louise sees a group portrait, seeing the unique cuff link on the arm of Fischoeder family lawyer/beleaguered cousin Grover. She also notices a bite mark on his wrist that had never been seen before this point, matching the jagged tooth she has belonging to the victim, and then that’s it. Again, I’m not expecting an intricate mystery here, but all of this is just kind of… okay. For an episode of TV, I would be more accepting of it, but for the plot of a big movie, it just doesn’t feel like enough. It more feels like Louise more or less stumbles onto the answer. There’s a few funny moments along the way, but not a whole lot for me to get super invested in story-wise.
As it’s revealed that Grover Fischoeder is the real killer, he regales his plan half in song, which acts as a huge info-dump of his motives, his entire plan, and his dream of bulldozing Wonder Wharf and the neighboring block (which includes Bob’s Burgers) and turning it into an upscale entertainment destination, information I wish was spread out in the movie just a little bit to make this reveal a little more meaningful. This twist also feels incredibly reminiscent of the two-part finale of season 4, which featured Felix Fischoeder’s grand plans to tear down the wharf in exchange for upscale condos, and him being willing to kill his own brother to do it. Perhaps they thought that fans would more easily go along with Louise’s early deduction that Felix is the killer, making the real truth be more unexpected, but that almost shines a brighter light that this basic premise has been done already, and honestly, much better. In the two-parter, we spend the entire first episode checking in on Felix, learning of his ambitions and frustrations with Calvin, until the cliffhanger where he holds his brother and Bob at gunpoint, leading into part two. In the movie, we barely spend any time with Grover up until his reveal, so it just functions as a twist you might not have seen coming, but not very satisfying in terms of him being a villain. Also, he intends to have the whole Belcher family, including three children, buried alive to cover his tracks, which not only did it feel a little bit too dark, but the fact that Grover seemingly has no qualms murdering kids made me wish he’d had more of a presence in the movie to build to this point.
It’s weird how Grover’s plan to demolish Bob’s block to put up a giant parking lot is really quickly brushed over. Like that literally is a plot for a movie right there. Not the most original plot, to be fair, but one that would feel more intimate to Bob’s world. A threat that wouldn’t just close Bob’s down, but completely decimate his building and the entire block. Maybe the whole neighborhood could have been mobilized to help save the wharf, with Bob needing to actually take charge and be hopeful for once. Then we could get some more moments from our familiar faces: Jimmy Pesto, Mort, the old couple that runs the craft shop, Marshmallow, all fan favorites who we’d love to see. Instead, a large amount of these B-tier characters make incredibly brief appearances in the film, with maybe one or two lines if they’re lucky. Bizarrely enough, a lot of them show up dancing during the credit sequence, with one featured per card, which felt kind of weird to me, considering how almost all of them had no role in the movie whatsoever, or didn’t even appear at all, like Linda’s sister Gayle. Maybe this was their way of giving these characters presence in the movie in some form, but all it did was make me wish we’d seen more of them in the film itself.
There’s moments dotted throughout the movie that feel like teases of things I’d love to see more of. When Bob and Linda talk about their financial woes in bed, there’s a very quick shot Linda narrates over where we see an excited Bob and a pregnant Linda sitting outside the vacant, for lease storefront of the restaurant, and all I could think about was how much I wanted to actually see that scene. The series has really only shown us incredibly brief flashes of the past, quick shots of the kids as babies mostly, and it’s something I’ve always wished we’d seen more of. This is a personal want, but it definitely would have been something exclusive to the movie that the show hadn’t touched yet. Showing Bob actually getting the restaurant, maybe from a younger Mr. Fischoeder, would have tied him more into the history of the town and the wharf, as well as giving us a view of a more hopeful, optimistic Bob. I also just love seeing this side of Bob; as distressed and overwhelmed as he typically is, his restaurant is his true passion, one he loves just as much as his family. He loves what he does, and seeing that passion in his younger self compared to his current day self would have been great to see. This bedtime scene complements a moment toward the end where the family is trapped in the hole; when Linda starts to give up hope, Bob starts to panic, recognizing the importance of his wife’s undying optimism to his life (“I’m gonna do for you what you do for me! I am not gonna give up! I’m gonna Linda this!”) It’s a very touching moment that I wished was lived in more, and again, made me wish the Bob/Linda story was more central to the film.
I’m also somewhat mixed on the emotional climax, where Bob corrects Louise on the origin of her pink ears: Linda made them inspired by a similar pink hat Bob’s mother wore, whose face we see in one shot from little kid Bob’s POV looking up at her. It’s a very sweet moment (“You remind me of my mom, Louise. With the hat, it’s kind of like you two have met. I keep forgetting that you never did.”) When we were first getting teases from Loren Bouchard about what the movie would be about, two plot items were revealed: we’d learn about Bob’s mother, and we’d learn about the origin of Louise’s ears. So here we get our answer, with those two plot bullet points combined into one. It’s a lovely moment, but it just kinda left me wanting to know more information. We know so little about Bob’s mother, and the info tease that we’d learn more got my interested, but I was just hoping for more. At the end of the film, we see Louise do the “dead man’s drop” on the monkey bars and her ears come off, but she puts them back on off-camera. Her personal journey is over, having learned her ears were born not of weakness but of strength… but part of me wishes we’d seen Louise hatless. It would be like the South Park movie where we see Kenny without his hood in a big epic reveal, just to see he’s got the same copy-paste face as any other character. The kids on the playground all gasp as we finally see Louise… with normal dark hair just like her siblings. I feel like I’ve been repeating myself a lot in this, and I acknowledge this is another personal want, but again, I kinda expect a movie to give me something I haven’t seen from the show, and it just feels like we got a bunch of morsels rather than something to sink our teeth into.
Along the same lines of vague talking points about the movie leaked in advance, this movie is a musical, which made absolute perfect sense to me. Since the beginning, music has been a pretty pivotal element of the series, be it Gene’s unique talents or the numerous amazing and weird songs featured through the years. Sitting down to watch the movie, I was expecting a full-blown musical. It even has an elaborate opening number, “Sunny Side of Summer,” with each of the five Belchers setting up their wants for the film in hopeful fashion before life starts to come crashing down on them. However, sad to find out, there are only two other songs in the movie. “Lucky Ducks” is performed by a group of carnies, grousing about how lousy it is to work for a suspected murderer like Mr. Fischoeder, with Louise countering that she’s going to find out who actually did it. It’s a fun number, but it seems like if the carnies had more of a role in the story, it would feel more important. Then there’s “Not That Evil,” the “villain” song by Grover Fischoeder, which is really part song, part spoken word, as Grover gives his enormous info-dump of his entire plan and the fate of the Belchers and Fischoeders. And as impressive as David Wain’s falsetto is, I really only consider it half a song, so that leaves us two-and-a-half songs total. That’s not much of a musical in my eyes, especially compared to Broadway-caliber productions like South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and Steven Universe: The Movie. I feel like there’s a certain section of fans who don’t really like all the music in the show, so they didn’t want to alienate that part of the audience, so that’s how we ended up with a half-measure.
As a semi-related aside, the movie crew also created a short film, “My Butt Has a Fever,” which had an unusual release, appearing in front of certain screenings of Doctor Strange 2 at certain theaters in early May, randomly airing on FXX before the movie came out, and eventually ending up for free on YouTube as well as the Blu-Ray release. The short is pretty simple, with the Belcher kids hijacking talent night with a rousing musical number about shaking your buns, much to the chagrin of school counselor and stickler prude Mr. Frond (the conceit actually feels very reminiscent of the Do the Bartman music video). It’s a lot of fun, with a catchy song and excellent animation (I was actually more impressed by the sequence of Mr. Frond chasing the kids backstage than maybe any of the more visually elaborate shots from the movie). It’s such a great piece, it makes me wish it were actually in the movie. They could have worked it in somewhere. Tina’s C-story could have been beefed up by some kind of love ballad ode to Jimmy Junior, we could’ve gotten more singing from Linda, or Teddy… the songs of Bob’s Burgers are always really great. The aforementioned two-part episode the movie cribbed its premise from also featured two mirroring songs: “Nice Things are Nice” and “Bad Things are Bad,” two wonderfully dumbly titled songs sitting in the middle of part one and part two, where the characters sing of their desired wants in the former, and their woeful predicaments in the latter. I just wanted more music.
Visually, the movie definitely feels a lot like the show, with the obligatory filmic shadows added to the characters and environments that make everything pop more. Some of the backgrounds are actually really gorgeous, particularly the Fischoeder estate and the secret wharf clubhouse. The animation is beefed up as well, with everything feeling much more fluid. It’s all very fine, but there’s not much in the movie that really blew me away. The car chase under the boardwalk was the only real stand-out sequence, or at least what I could see of it. The entire scene is so, so dark that it made it difficult to see everything that was happening, which was discouraging since it all looked very exciting and well-done. I get it’s after sundown under the pier, but they could have just artificially lightened the scene a bit more and I don’t think it would have detracted. I had a similar issue with when the Belchers are trapped in the hole. Louise’s Kuchi Kopi flickers on and off a few times, illuminating the scene, but the majority of it takes place in a similar pitch darkness, during the emotional climax of the movie that I really wish I could see the characters faces for. For all of its faults, one of the best things The Simpsons Movie had going for it was its excellent direction by David Silverman, and all of the inventive shots and really well animate sequences throughout. This movie was directed by show creator Loren Bouchard and Bernard Derriman, a supervising director since the first couple seasons of the show, who also animated this classic music video prior to joining the show. I guess there’s not a lot of action moments within the story, but I kind of wish there was more visual variety, like the aforementioned running backstage scene from the short.
While it feels like I’ve basically backed up a dump truck and shit all over this movie, I really don’t dislike it. The Belcher family is still innately charming after all these years, and there were genuine laughs sprinkled throughout the entire film. The cast are all as game as ever, with Kevin Kline and Zach Galifinakis as the Fischoeder brothers being usual dependable highlights. There are some genuinely beautiful looking shots throughout the movie, with the art direction really being pumped up. But I feel for it on the whole the same I feel about the show for the last five or six years: mild to moderate enjoyment. It’s sad, but it’s just like Lisa Simpson says, after so many years, characters just can’t have the same impact they once had. I actually watched the two-part season 4 finale before rewatching the movie just to see how similar the plots were, and I was struck by how much fresher the show felt then. It’s hard to really pinpoint exactly why, since a lot of the humor is similar throughout, but the writing just seems a lot sharper. I guess it’s sort of similar to watching a season 3 Simpsons episode before turning on the movie. Maybe not quite as extreme quality-wise, but similar.
The Simpsons Movie really is the closest point of comparison to Bob’s, but I feel like I’m down on them for different reasons. As we discovered from the soul-crushing behind-the-scenes commentaries, as well as being rewritten and overthought to death by veteran writers cowering in fear over test screenings, The Simpsons Movie was made to be accessible to non-fans, so it felt much broader than the series, jettisoning a lot of the unique charm of the show (whatever was left of it at that point at least) for more easily digestible storylines like Bart wishing his daddy was nicer to him or whatever. The Bob’s Burgers Movie is almost a mirror image to that, in that it very much feels like a regular, extra-long episode of the show. I wouldn’t say that someone who’s never seen the show before wouldn’t enjoy it, but it most certainly would help. The Simpsons worked extra hard to make their movie feel like a BIG movie, whereas Bob’s didn’t seem quite as concerned with that. I most definitely give the edge to Bob’s in terms of which one I enjoy more, but just like with The Simpsons Movie, I definitely lump this movie in with latter season Bob’s in that I probably won’t be going back to revisit it anytime soon. But it’s definitely worth watching for any fan of the show, or even a casual fan. It’s a gorgeous 2D animated film, which is an extreme rarity nowadays, and a nice, sweet ride for what it is. But to me, it was just missing that special sauce to make it feel like a movie worthy of the series.