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Friday, December 4, 2020

‘Sausage Party’: Where food meets faith (and the F-word)

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Esther D. Kustanowitz
Esther D. Kustanowitz is a Contributing Writer at the Jewish Journal. She previously was the Founding Editor at GrokNation.com. She is an experienced freelance writer and consultant specializing in social media, pop culture, grief and Jewish community conversation. She is frequently sought-after as a source on social media engagement and culture, and is known as a Jewish community social influencer.

A new movie out just last weekend focuses on the role of faith in our daily lives: Who shapes our beliefs and what do we do when confronted with facts that directly contradict our belief system? Do we reject faith or double down on embracing it, despite any looming truths? The movie also tackles concepts of ethnic tribalism, moral relativism and more. You might not have guessed that this is Seth Rogen’s latest vehicle, “Sausage Party,” an R-rated animated film.

Don’t mistake the Pixar-spoofing CGI film for “Toy Story” or “Finding Dory” — this film featuring characters cursing a blue streak, is saturated with sexual innuendo and engages in one visually overwhelming and unbelievably graphic sex orgy. NPR called the film “gleefully profane.” 

The film centers on Frank, a protagonist sausage trying to find (and fill) his bun. But the writers — including actor-writer Rogen (who stars as Frank) and his longtime collaborator Evan Goldberg, along with their frequent collaborators and executive producers Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter — went beyond the joke to construct a belief system for sentient food.

“We didn’t set out to write a movie about [faith],” Shaffir said in a phone interview. “The genesis was ‘the secret life of food.’ ” But as the writers discussed it, they realized that “the food can’t believe that they get eaten is the starting point, so what do they believe?” 

The food characters at the film’s fictional Shopwell’s supermarket expresses their beliefs every morning, in a musical number titled “The Great Beyond,” that deliberately recalls show-stoppers in “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Indeed, the song was composed by eight-time Oscar winner and 19-time Oscar nominee Alan Menken, who composed those Disney classics with his late partner, Howard Ashman, and with lyrics by Tony-nominated and Grammy-Award winning lyricist Glenn Slater. 

In the writing process, the filmmakers realized the song — in the script from the start — was actually the key to setting up the structure of faith for the film’s characters. 

“We tied it to the belief system and who created it and how it got changed and perverted throughout the aisles, making them at odds with each other,” said Hunter, who co-wrote the lyrics with Slater, along with Rogen, Goldberg and Shaffir.

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