If you think a goateed box of French fries, a large shake and an amorphous mound of ground beef are unlikely candidates for animated stardom, well … I’d have to agree with you. But since debuting on cable TV in 2000, the anthropomorphic trio of Frylock, Master Shake and Meatwad have become unlikely cult favorites on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim series Aqua Teen Hunger Force. (And, in case you’re wondering, the characters are not teens, have nothing to do with water, nor are they hungry or forceful, really.) Now the creators of these fast-food antiheroes hope to parlay that underground popularity into a bigger audience via the big screen.
The plot, such as it is, goes something like this: Frylock, Master Shake and Meatwad have purchased one Insanoflex universal weight-lifting machine from their irascible, slobbish (and human) neighbor, Carl. Master Shake, in particular, hopes the device will turn him into an irresistible sex machine (never mind that we never see any female shakes). One problem: It’s missing a computer control panel. Thus the Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s quest for the key to the Insanoflex commences. What they don’t realize, however, is that the activated Insanoflex will morph into a civilization-destroying robot.
Monitoring the trio’s progress from outer space is a bizarre constellation of pseudo-adversaries with their own agendas: the Space Invader-esque aliens Ignignokt and Err; two Christmas-treeish denizens of Pluto, Oglethorpe and Emory; a crazy robot dubbed the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past; and a psychopathic watermelon slice named, appropriately, Walter Melon, along with his drumming sidekick, Rush’s Neil Peart.
Chaos predictably—and unpredictably—ensues as the Insanoflex comes to life with Carl strapped unceremoniously aboard. And the Hunger Force’s faltering attempts to stop it will lead them into the mystery surrounding their origins and their bizarre connection to a mad scientist known, naturally, as Dr. Weird.
When Carl and the rest of humanity are imperiled by the Insanoflex, several characters suggest that stopping the rampaging machine would probably be a good idea. Passing reference is made to ending world hunger.
A song on the soundtrack sarcastically suggests, “Satan, rain down acid” on those who violate movie-watching rules. A scene apparently takes place in hell, where we hear Satan’s voice but don’t actually see him. A violent death is described as “feel[ing] the sweet embrace of Satan’s hoof against your face.” And the devil gets even more play when metalheads worship him in a cemetery and Frylock (who has a diabolical look himself) emerges from a pentagram. Neil Peart’s so-called “Drum Solo of Life” has the power to bring a dead character back to life.
Despite the fact that Carl, a human, is presumably the only primary character who possesses sexual anatomy, characters refer specifically to male and female body parts as they talk explicitly about sex. Carl rubs his crotch, and masturbation references occur regularly. Repeated mentions are made about a character who drinks bull semen for its supposed muscle-building benefits—and oral sex with the animal is implied as well.
Meatwad looks at a pornographic “meat” magazine and is concerned about what will become of Carl’s “extensive porn collection” if he dies. Emory and Oglethorpe have realistic-looking posters of buxom, bikini-clad women on their dorm-room walls. We see images of a post-apocalyptic future filled with women (some of whom are pregnant) in torn, skimpy clothing. All three members of the Hunger Force look at Internet images of women in bras. The Ghost of Christmas Past repeatedly tries to have sex with different machines. The robot also shares a three-way kiss with Oglethorpe and Emory, after which Emory suggests, “Let’s kiss some more.”
Other sexual content includes Dr. Weird disrobing to reveal that his doll-like anatomy has no genitalia (which he comments on); the doctor posing as a muscle-bound woman in a teeny bikini to seduce Carl; Master Shake holding a half-eaten hot dog suggestively; and Frylock confessing that he used to be a professional nude dancer and that he’s actually a lesbian woman (later he appears to be female). Meatwad touches the breast of a female character near the end of the film. Master Shake sings a little ditty dubbed “Nude Love.” And whenever the Insanoflex robot is killing people, a techno track plays in the background exclaiming over and over again, “I like you booty, but I’m not gay.”
Usually when you read the phrase “cartoon violence,” you take it to mean that the action is less graphic, less realistic and therefore (arguably) less problematic. But not here. Graphically violent imagery, usually played off as dark humor, constantly assaults us. Several scenes involve decapitations, followed by massive blood spray. Hands are cut off, and organs are ripped out. Cats and a dog explode (the former after unsuccessfully being fired from cannons). Master Shake gets his teeth bloodily knocked out. And he gives as good as he gets, blasting a huge hole in Meatwad with a shotgun (which temporarily kills him). One character suggests to another that he kill his parents, saying, “After all, how often do you see them anyway?”
In scenes reminiscent of Frankenstein, Dr. Weird pulls out chunks of his brain and gives them to creatures he’s trying to animate. A particularly violent scene involves Weird removing Carl’s exaggerated muscles to wear as a suit. His actions take place off camera (we hear Carl screaming), but then we see the (literally) disembodied man reduced to a pile of blood and bones on a bed. Dr. Weird is also cut in two, and his top half keeps talking even as blood pools around him.
F-words (including five pairings with “mother”) turn up most frequently among profanities, about 15 times. God’s name is taken in vain about 15 times (including three uses of “g–d–n”). The s-word, “d–n” and “a–” are each uttered between five and 10 times. Characters use other milder vulgarities about half-a-dozen times.
An opening song talks about the makers of the film using the revenue it generates to buy drugs. Emory is shown in his college days building a castle with hundreds of cans of beer he’s consumed. There’s one allusion to performance-enhancing drugs.
Characters gleefully talk about gross bodily functions of all kinds. One of the aliens vomits repeatedly on a roller coaster. Master Shake shoves a hose through the legs of “Baby Wets All Night,” further enhancing the toy’s watering capabilities. A fly sent from hell by Satan rhapsodizes about how much he enjoys eating dog excrement. A Civil War video game narrator tells a victorious Southerner after a duel, “The plantation is safe. The slaves are yours.” Throughout the film, there’s an underlying sense of perverse pleasure when characters indulge in forbidden or debased elements of culture.
There was a time, not that long ago, really, when Thundarr the Barbarian might have seemed like an edgy cartoon. OK, OK, I admit that was almost 30 years ago, back when the earth was still cooling. Then came The Simpsons and MTV’s envelope-ripping Beavis and Butt-Head. With each of these steps, animation became less for the kiddos and more for hip, in-the-know adult audiences. That slide down the slippery animated slope accelerated dramatically with the TV-MA-rated content of Comedy Central’s profanity- and violence-laden South Park. Clearly, there was an audience for animated raunch.
An audience big enough, in fact, that the Cartoon Network decided to aim its late-night programming not at the little ones but at insomniac young adults instead. In 2001, Aqua Teen Hunger Force (which was already being broadcast), became one of the anchor shows for the new Adult Swim lineup. Far from the cartoons of yesteryear, Aqua Teen exemplified a new frontier of edgy content combined with outlandish, postmodern storylines bereft of linear plot points but chock-full of self-aware irony, sarcasm and cynicism.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, then, isn’t particularly concerned about telling a coherent story (or using state-of-the-art animation techniques, for that matter). Instead, it might best be described as nonsensical animated silliness for its own sake. Silliness, that is, that relies on penis jokes, decapitations and liberal uses of the f-word to earn its yuks. Despite deeming the film “wholly enjoyable,” Cinema Blend reviewer Josh Tyler still sums things up as good as anyone could when he writes, “If your kids are watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force, then you’re a bad parent and/or probably stoned. If you’re stoned, well, you’ll fit right in with everyone who shows up to see this movie. To get the most out of it, you need to be really, really high.”
A postscript: Despite the show’s underground following, Cartoon Network execs have been eager to capitalize on this super-low-budgeter’s theatrical debut. (It reportedly cost just $750,000 to produce.) So much so that they green-lighted a marketing stunt in Boston earlier this year that involved blinking electronic facsimiles of the characters Ignignokt and Err (raising their middle fingers) all over the city. Depending on one’s perspective, the marketing ploy either backfired horribly or worked beyond ad execs’ wildest dreams when city officials thought the characters were part of a terrorist plot and shut down Beantown. Boston’s public servants were not amused, to say the least, and asked Cartoon Network’s parent company Turner Broadcasting to pony up $1 million to reimburse the city for its emergency response expenses. Turner chipped in that amount, plus an extra million in “goodwill funds.” Meanwhile, the head of Cartoon Network resigned in the aftermath of the fiasco. No doubt he’ll have ample opportunity to consider whether this ridiculous movie was really worth sacrificing his career for. We suspect he’ll ultimately conclude it wasn’t.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.