Consider the humble hamburger.
It begins its life in contradiction. (It is, after all, beef, not ham.) But it has little time to dwell on such existential linguistics. Even after it’s separated from its bovine home (which we won’t dwell on), its tribulations don’t stop until it reaches the plate. It’s chopped and sliced and sent through meat grinders, only to be patted and mashed and squished before it’s thrown on some sort of incredibly hot cooking edifice.
And then, after undergoing all those horrors, it becomes something worthy. Something near edible perfection.
Hamburgers are a little like families in that.
OK, so one rarely eats one’s family. Nor do most families qualify for the moniker of “perfection.” So perhaps they’re not like burgers at all.
But families, too, must deal with contradictions. They, too, must press through all manner of difficulties. You could consider each family member a burger garnishment, be it a slice of cheese or a bit of lettuce or a fried egg—disparate ingredients that somehow make the whole better.
Bob Belcher knows the power of the humble hamburger. For 12 seasons, he’s grilled and flipped and garnished countless beef patties, from his “If Looks Could Kale Burger” to the “Papaya Was a Rolling Stone Burger.” And even as the businesses around him change from episode to episode, Bob’s Burgers has remained in business lo these many years—even though his three children (Tina, Gene and Louise) have not appreciatively aged or grown in all that time.
But now, it seems his luck might have (ahem) ground to a halt.
The bank has a beef with Bob, and it’s refusing to give Bob an extension for his latest business loan. That’s not a huge deal if Bob can sell enough burgers, of course. But when an enormous sinkhole opens up in front of his restaurant, it seems that the business itself might also sink. Especially when Louise falls in the hole and discovers a skeleton—the remains, it seems, of a murder victim. Hard to fill in a hole when it’s also a crime scene, y’know?
Bob figures the whole family will surely end up on the street selling off spare organs to survive. But Linda, Bob’s ever-optimistic wife, isn’t ready to call it a day yet. Why, if they can just get their eccentric landlords (Calvin and Felix Fischoeder) to let their rent slide, and if they can encourage their patrons to brave the alley out back, and if they can think of a snappy of enough musical number, why they might just survive to see a brighter, burger-ier tomorrow (and Season 13).
What could be more mooooving than that?
The Belcher family, as we’ll see, has its share of … eccentricities. But each member loves each other member dearly, and we see their mutual affection often—from Tina showering 9-year-old Louise with unwanted kisses, to Bob’s support of Gene’s musical aspirations. (He hopes to turn a restaurant napkin dispenser into an in-dispensable part of every rock band.)
The movie, though, is especially powered by two emotional engines. The first is Bob’s and Linda’s love for, and devotion to, each other. Sure, they’ve experienced their ups and downs over the years. But their marriage is still strong as the movie begins, and it remains strong throughout. Their relationship illustrates how marriage partners can shore up one another’s weaknesses: Bob knows his way around a griddle, after all, but it’s Linda’s tireless positivity that keeps the place open. And when Linda suffers a moment of despair, Bob realizes how much he’s been relying on his wife all these years.
“You don’t give up!” he shouts. “I give up!” And then, in an effort to help his family, he’s determined to be optimistic for once. “I’m going to Linda this!” he shouts.
The second emotional driver here is Louise’s own quest for self-assurance. You’d not think that’d be an issue, given that Louise is one of the most self-assured 9-year-olds you’ll ever meet. But after a girl at school makes fun of her ever-present pink rabbit ears—which she’s been wearing since the beginning of kindergarten—she feels the need to prove just how brave she is. That desire to prove herself drives much of the plot forward, though her insecurities are unfounded. I won’t spoil it, but her parents tell her a very sweet story about how brave she’s always been.
Bob, Louise and others risk their lives for the family. And Teddy, Bob’s self-proclaimed best friend and a fanatic supporter of the Bob’s Burgers restaurant, goes to significant lengths to save the business, too.
Not a lot. We do see a statue that may represent Poseidon, Greek god of the ocean. The latest new business to move in beside Bob’s Burgers is “Put a Pin In It Acupuncture.” Tina fantasizes about “sexy zombies.”
Linda dons a bikini, albeit over a full-body hamburger outfit. “Sex sells, baby!” she says. (Gene later dons the same burger-bikini for a rock concert.)
Tina, the Belchers’ teen daughter, fantasizes about a fellow student, Jimmy. She often thinks about seeing Jimmy’s underpants-clad rear (some of her fantasies give those musings visual punch) and kinda-sorta wants to make him her “summer boyfriend.” But she also fantasizes about the aforementioned teen zombies as well, and one or two of her daydreams depict both Jimmy and zombies together, riding horses along the beach.
Linda and Bob express love for each other in a variety of mostly silly ways. But Bob also “flirts” with his latest impressive burger creation—stroking its bun as the burger tells Bob not to rub off all its sesame seeds. “They seem like a cute couple,” Louise says, as Bob and the burger hold their tête-à-tête. “I give ’em a week,” Gene says.
Hopefully, the above gag gives you an idea of just how silly Bob’s Burgers can be. Let’s assume that no one, including Bob’s very special burger, believed or hoped that Bob would cheat on Linda with an inanimate beef patty. In the same way, a number of Bob’s Burgers characters or gags are designed to raise an eyebrow or two in the audience while still feeling both enigmatic and ludicrous.
We won’t unpack each and every instance of such vagaries, but let’s do talk about Gene, the Belcher’s middle child. He loves his showtunes and fashion, and in the television show he has been occasionally been referred to as the Belcher’s third “sister.” As mentioned, he dons the bikini-clad burger costume, which I suppose could be classified as an instance of cross dressing, and he has been embraced as “queer” by some in the LGBT community. But he’s also 11, and he hasn’t expressed any real romantic interest in anything. Certainly not in the movie. (He does say, however, that he’ll be going “topless, 24/7” during the summer.)
We should note that Bob’s Burgers, the show, has included LGBT characters in the past, and some insist that Bob himself is canonically bisexual (though the instance in question feels about as sincere as calling Bob a necrophiliac zoophile because of his early-movie burger dalliance).
Characters need to twist the nipples of a well-muscled statue to enter a secret realm. Cartoon characters occasionally sport slightly revealing garb. Someone talks about a “selfish lover.”
Louise falls down into the sinkhole and discovers a skeleton—the remains of what turns out to be a murder victim. (Part of the crumbling corpse makes it into Louise’s mouth, and she insists now that she’s “tasted death.”) The murderer is still on the loose, and he comes close to doing in a number of other people.
A burger stand blows up. We see characters fight, and one is shot. Carnival workers chase people and seem to threaten youngsters. A carnival ride is rigged to burn down, and nearly does. Bob and Louise risk their lives to prevent disaster. Some people are nearly buried alive. A lawyer is bullied.
The zombies in Tina’s fantasies look goofily decayed.
We hear a few milder profanities, including “a–,” “d–n,” “crap” and “h—.” God’s name is misused about 30 times, though, and we do hear someone say “jeez.” Someone exclaims, “Son of a butt.” Linda quotes a phrase that would normally contain the s-word, but she censors it, saying instead, “You know what.” A carnival ride is called “Ships and giggles.”
When Bob and Linda ask Calvin Fischoeder to let them delay their rent payment, Calvin says, “I’m of two minds, and by that I mean drunk.” We see he and his brother, Felix, swig alcohol on occasion, and a secret lair contains a well-stocked bar.
Gene finds passing gas hilarious, and we see and hear a couple of jokes related to this comic passion of his. Characters lie and mislead. Louise convinces her siblings to skip school, albeit in an attempt to catch a murderer. Bob and Linda hock burgers outside without a license, albeit in an attempt to save their business.
When the dead body gets exposed in the sinkhole, we hear some discussion about the role of holes in both bringing people into the world and taking them out—dialogue that at least one person involved feels is inappropriate.
Tina wants to cement her summer relationship status by giving him her tooth retainer (refashioned as a necklace). We hear about and see people gamble. We hear people talk briefly about vomit, defecation and urination.
In the world of adult-focused cartoons, Bob’s Burgers has marked out its own unique territory—a little edgier than The Simpsons, but sweeter, too. The Belchers are a family in which unconditional love rules the roost, and this movie is a prime example of that love’s unconditionalism.
Bob and Linda adore their kids and accept all their idiosyncrasies. The kids do what they can to love and support their parents, too. In fact, the movie’s entire plot is propelled by their desire to save their family business and, indirectly, to save their family. You gotta give the film props for that.
But while it’s great to see that sort of unconditional love in a family, we, as moviegoers, are in no way required to shower that same unconditional love on the films we watch. And The Bob’s Burgers Movie lays out plenty of conditions to evade or avoid.
We hear some sexually tinged jokes. We see a bit of violence. Language can be crude and offensive. But set The Bob’s Burgers Movie next to South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the former looks like a Pippi Longstocking tale: odd, perhaps, but comparatively innocent.
Wonder Wharf, the amusement park near Bob’s Burgers, displays a sign that says “100 years of cheap thrills with almost no decapitations.” The Bob’s Burgers Movie is, in many ways, is a lot like Wonder Wharf, what with its charming-if-broken-down rides and festive boardwalk and pervading sense of decay and low-key menace. It’s fun but odd, innocent but not. Is it a good way to spend a couple of hours? Or is it a horrific waste of time?
Is it possible for it to be … both?
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.