movie review

The Comfortable Familiarity of The Bob’s Burgers Movie

Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

The Belcher family is stuck, literally and figuratively. Sitcoms, live-action or animated, are built on stasis. But even by those standards, Bob’s Burgers has settled into a notably predictable rhythm over 12 seasons — one in which not only does little ever change, but the fundamental challenges and obstacles faced by the family remain the same too.

For husband-and-wife team Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and Linda (John Roberts), it’s always the same mad scramble to pay their rent and bills. For older daughter Tina (Dan Mintz), it’s her desire to make it official with her longtime crush and neighbor, Jimmy Jr. (also voiced by Benjamin). For son Gene (Eugene Mirman), it’s a yearning to write the next great song. For younger daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal), it’s a fiery need to prove herself as more than just a little girl. That’s the Bob’s Burgers formula, give or take various absurdities like a Jon Hamm–voiced toilet. If you accept its rigidity and its safety, The Bob’s Burgers Movie — the show’s first film adaptation — is a jubilant bit of distraction. Narratively, it’s nothing new, but the plot’s predictability and the ease with which Bob’s Burgers impresario Loren Bouchard guides us through it as co-director and co-writer is a comfort.

The story here is scaled down from the Belcher family’s zaniest antics (no balloon fetishes, no paintings of animal anuses), but visually, Ocean Avenue has been scaled up. The animation has unparalleled vibrancy, depth, and fluidity. During dance sequences, certain characters look like cutouts set apart from the main action, and that effect adds subtle layering. A split-diopter shot during the villain’s boastful, sung explanation of their master plan provides a close-up view of their facial expressions and a wider shot of their (of course) dancing body. A chase scene through a Wonder Wharf storage space is both a whirlwind of movement and an opportunity for clever production-design details such as wide-eyed stuffed animals and uniquely shaped bumper cars. Altogether, the effect is an enchanting tumble into the Belchers’ world, and the story’s straightforwardness and focus on familial intimacy allows that optical immersion.

It’s almost summertime, and the Belcher family is anxious. Bob and Linda owe the bank a loan payment for their restaurant equipment, and after they’re denied an extension, they have only a week to pay it back. Tina worries about whether Jimmy Jr. will agree to be her summer boyfriend. Gene invents a new musical instrument by rubber-banding two plastic spoons to an empty metal napkin canister but has a nightmare in which no one comes to see his band, the Itty Bitty Ditty Committee, perform. Louise, offended by a classmate calling her a “baby” for her refusal to do a playground stunt, falls into a spiral of self-doubt. So when a gigantic sinkhole appears in front of Bob’s Burgers, Louise decides to explore it to prove her bravery — discovering an unsolved mystery that pulls in an array of Belcher neighbors, allies, frenemies, and foes.

They all play a part in a well-paced, tightly focused whodunit: the Belchers’ landlord, Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline), his brother, Felix (Zach Galifianakis), and their cousin, Grover (David Wain); devoted family friend Teddy (Larry Murphy) and detective Sergeant Bosco (Gary Cole); Wonder Wharf carny Mickey (John Q. Kubin) and One-Eyed Snakes motorcycle-gang member Critter (Robert Ben Garant). Meanwhile, the Belchers do what they do best: They sing in moments of optimism and doubt; they sneak around and investigate, either accidentally offending carnies or marveling at the oddities of the wealthy Fischoeders. And, of course, they support, encourage, and love each other, with a couple thoughtful twists to the family’s established roles that add some emotional heft to the film’s finale.

The throwaway gags are good, like Jimmy Jr.’s best friend, Zeke (Bobby Tisdale), tumbling around school hallways doing an amateur version of parkour and the Fischoeder brothers mocking the Belchers’ comparative poverty with a smug “Yeah, jealous?” And vocally, the cast is its usual talented self, in particular Benjamin, whether unleashing Bob’s signature “Oh, God” groan at his family’s antics, adding a bit of whiny lovestruckness to Tina’s daydream version of Jimmy Jr., or voicing Louise’s melted, mischievous Bad Kuchi Kopi figure. The only real performance misstep is Wain’s singing voice, which gets a little pitchy and hard to follow.

But underneath all the zaniness, the core tension at the heart of Bob’s Burgers has always been about the cost, literal and figurative, of following your dreams. At what point does all that physical and emotional labor no longer feel worth it? Wouldn’t it just be easier to be rich and unfulfilled? Bob’s Burgers patently rejects cynicism, and The Bob’s Burgers Movie is no different. It’s a pleasantly unchallenging expansion of the family-friendship-loyalty worldview that Bouchard and the Belchers have made their own.

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The Comfortable Familiarity of The Bob’s Burgers Movie