The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022)
Director: Loren Bouchard, Bernard Derriman
Screenwriters: Loren Bouchard, Nora Smith
Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal, John Roberts
When it comes to animated sitcom films, audiences want the same show they love but more cinematic. This can bring together the two contradictory goals of TV (stability) and film (bombastic extravagance). In film versions of such shows, the animation gets fancier, the stories get bigger, the celebrity cameos are arranged, but none of it can really alter the course of the show because the fans want to keep coming back to the places and characters they love. Striking the balance can be difficult, but The Bob’s Burgers Movie does it perfectly, giving lovers of the show all the things they love in a form appropriate for the big screen.
‘Bob’s Burgers’ has had 238 episodes since 2011. The light-hearted comedy follows the Belcher family as they deal with typical (and not-so-typical) family problems and eccentric locals in their seaside town. Bob and Linda run a burger restaurant and are always on the verge of financial ruin, but they persevere to help keep their lives together. The kids – Tina, Gene, and Louise – each have their own set of quirks, and have incredible comic timing together. Regular supporting characters include their landlord Mr. Fischoeder, regular customer and Bob’s best friend Teddy, and Tina’s perpetual love interest Jimmy Pesto Jr., whose father owns a restaurant across the street from Bob. It’s one of the most wholesome comedies on TV, showing that not all adult cartoons need to be in the ‘Family Guy’ or Adult Swim molds.
The film finds the Belchers at the end of the school year, and they are once again on the verge of financial ruin as the bank won’t extend their loan. When Bob thinks things couldn’t get any worse, a sinkhole opens up in front of the restaurant. Louise journeys into the sinkhole, and a skeleton falls on her. Police arrive and arrest a suspect, but the kids launch their own investigation to find the real killer and somehow save their family’s restaurant. It’s always possible that a film’s story and stakes will be too big, like in Suicide Squad (2016), but this murder investigation allows the film to incorporate something exciting and dramatic (which the show is no stranger to) while not venturing too far beyond the realms of possibility within story’s world.
The most striking change in the show for regular viewers is the lighting. It’s a level of “cinematography” not achieved by the TV show, which is often rather flat beyond moments of emphasis. There’s so much shadow its like a parody of the great classic noir films, but it never seems sarcastic. In the opening, the kids walk with the sun to their backs, casting dark shadows across their front, and later a Tina daydream shows striking sun rays emerging through clouds. It’s an excellent touch that gives the impression that this is a film, not an episode of a television show. The “camerawork” never gets too crazy, following the standard look of the show outside of a couple of sequences, which also helps to maintain the feeling of the show (which has its own moments of dynamism and movie references).
The Bob’s Burgers Movie doesn’t get too crazy with the side characters, either. ‘Bob’s Burgers’ features tons of great celebrity voice actors in amusing roles, and the film keeps the cast tight with nods to the show’s depth throughout. Shoving in characters could have been a cheap way to fill time, but all of the characters in the film play an important role. Those featured get plenty of time for expansion, too. The pier’s carnival workers get an entire song about how they’re mistreated by their boss (Mr. Fischoeder) and unfairly maligned by society. It represents the pathos found within the show, where outcasts of any type are accepted by the family when others might not be so caring.
One of the weaker points may be the character arcs. Certainly these aren’t what are most important in a comedy film, but they are an element that the film emphasizes. This is a film based on a TV show, and that can be problematic because a show with 238 episodes is bound to have covered a certain aspect of a character or a desire they’ve had. But there is no innovation in what the characters want to accomplish or what they overcome throughout the story. Tina is still chasing Jimmy Jr. just like she has since season 1 with no interesting element of difference. The show has handled this relationship in more creative ways. Gene’s goal to play a napkin holder with spoons as an instrument at the pier sounds like a B-story in a mediocre episode of the show. The film is an opportunity for characters to do one-off things they wouldn’t normally do, and these two characters particularly could have gotten a bit more to work with in the realm of the extraordinary offered by cinema.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie aimed to bring the Belcher family to the movies without doing anything too crazy. It achieves this, and manages to be a hilarious, entertaining, and natural work within the show’s typical style and structure. It’s feel-good and family-friendly, too. Adapting television to the big screen can be difficult, but this film is an example of how well it can be done despite the two mediums’ competing goals.