The Bob’s Burgers Movie was first announced in October of 2017, during that magical window of time just before the Disney merger went public, when 20th Century Fox was greenlighting every film they could to try and boost the sale price. That said, it’s not like the film was an objectively awful idea to begin with. Even after 12 seasons, the show is still going strong with a fanbase that’s large and passionate, yet the show isn’t quite so huge that it’s a universal hit and there could still be a wider audience for a feature film to reach.

That said, I’ve never been a fan of the show. I’ve only seen a handful of episodes and my knowledge of it primarily comes secondhand through friends and family. It just isn’t for me. But with regards to the movie, I thought it still might’ve been worth coming into this cold just to see if this could get me hooked on the show.

To quote a totally different Fox family sitcom, “I’ve made a huge mistake“.

As the film opens, Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin, who also voices numerous other bit parts) is anxious because his burger joint is out of money and the bank won’t extend his business loan. So now they’ve got seven days to make the loan payment or the bank will repossess Bob’s kitchen equipment. Oh, and Bob still has to make the rent payment to his wealthy asshole landlord (Calvin Fischoeder, voiced by Kevin Kline) or Bob will lose the restaurant and his family’s home above the restaurant. Bob is sent into an existential catatonic spiral over all of this, prompting Linda Belcher (John Roberts) to try and lift his spirits through delusional optimism and legally questionable business tactics.

Things get even worse when worn-down plumbing causes a massive fucking sinkhole to open up right in front of Bob’s Burgers. As a direct result, there is no longer a street or a sidewalk leading into the restaurant, thus no customers are coming in and therefore there’s no money to pay the bank. The plot thickens even further with the discovery of a corpse buried in the sinkhole, and Calvin Fischoeder is arrested as the prime murder suspect. (It’s a long story.)

While all of this is going on, the kids are in the last week of school before summer vacation. Tina (Dan Mintz) is struggling to get over her perpetual social awkwardness to try and make a last-ditch move on her crush (Jimmy Jr., voiced by H. Jon Benjamin again). We’ve also got Gene (Eugene Mirman), who’s somehow gotten it into his head that his unsuspecting siblings and friends are in a band called “The Itty-Bitty Ditty Committee”, even though they have no songs, no rehearsals, no talent, and only a handful of bizarre “instruments” of Gene’s own invention.

But the limelight here goes to Louise Belcher, voiced by Kristen Schaal. She’s been getting bullied from some of the other kids with regard to the signature pink bunny ears that she’s continuously worn since preschool. Yes, folks — we get an origin story for those pink bunny ears. Even as a novice to the franchise, I’ve gotta say that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, Louise is concerned that she might be a baby and a coward for going so long with her security blanket and she’s concerned about losing the family restaurant. Thus Louise recruits her siblings into an effort at solving the murder and clearing their landlord’s name, even though he’s guilty as sin. (Or is he?) Meanwhile, Teddy (a regular Bob’s Burgers customer, voiced by Larry Murphy) has taken it on himself to build a ramshackle food cart to take business to the street, even though Bob can’t legally do that for lack of the proper license. But of course he’s pressured to do it anyway and we’re off to the races.

I want to state right up front that there’s nothing objectively wrong with the film. Even with so little knowledge of the series, I had no trouble following the action or the plot. I also appreciate how the delivery is tight, with every joke painstakingly crafted and dropped with pinpoint timing. I might add that the animation looks fantastic and of course everyone in the cast is well-practiced at playing these roles by now. Hell, even the song breaks were funny and cute in their own way.

But for all of that… I dunno, it never really grabbed me. I’m having trouble figuring out why, but I think it’s mostly the nature of the show itself.

Granted, “Bob’s Burgers” isn’t instantly dated or out-of-touch like so many other sitcoms. Remember, the TV sitcom pretty much defined the modern nuclear family that’s become an archaic and small-minded institution in the decades since the genre’s inception. (I don’t know if you’ve seen any “I Love Lucy” reruns lately, but that show was sexist and abusive as hell by modern standards.) Even the shows built to satirize the perfect sitcom nuclear family are themselves obsolete by modern standards. (“The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” are of course the textbook examples.)

By contrast, “Bob’s Burgers” surprisingly has more in common with “The Addams Family” in that both shows are about offbeat yet improbably functional families who love each other and care deeply about each other despite — or perhaps because of — their deep-seated eccentricities. The key difference is that the Belcher family have their differences and their problems. They squabble, they disagree, and they embarrass each other to an extent that the Addamses never did. Moreover, the Belchers aren’t independently wealthy and Bob isn’t miraculously capable of supporting a five-person family in a single-income household. To the contrary, Bob is a small business owner who constantly worries about making ends meet, a situation all too relatable to a modern audience.

Mike Myers once observed that every comedic character needs an obsession. For Bob, that obsession is his work. I hasten to add that he runs a family business, his family lives above the shop, and he’s selling burgers to provide for his family. Bob is therefore obsessed with his work and his family because in his mind, they’re the same thing. Contrast that with Linda, who’s single-mindedly obsessed with her family. Indeed, she is so pathologically obsessed with making sure her kids and her husband are happy that she will do her best to rewrite reality itself through sheer delusional willpower (in humorous contrast with Bob’s deadpan pragmatism).

Then we have the kids. Tina is obsessed with Jimmy Jr. (a boy with whom she has no observable chemistry) and Gene is obsessed with his music (though the show presents it as a passing phase that Gene picked up suddenly and will likely drop just as quickly in favor of some other shiny object). As for Louise… well, in this movie, she’s overly sensitive about being called a baby, but it’s my understanding that Louise is an archetypal trickster whose whole personality is built around “move fast and break shit.”

The problem here is that none of the characters have much of any personality or development arcs outside those singular obsessions. Which can be especially problematic when the obsession in question is thinly developed. For a sitcom — in which every story has to be resolved in half an hour so the status quo can reset for the next episode — this is perfectly serviceable. But it’s not enough to sustain a 100-minute feature, never mind a potential series of films.

As a direct result, the whole movie feels thin. Even with two storylines moving in tandem and dovetailing together in the third act, it feels like a half-hour of story padded out with gratuitous fantasy sequences and musical numbers. And while the characters do noticeably develop over the course of the film, there’s an implicit underlying sense that none of this will make any difference, everything in the past 100 minutes will be forgotten, and the next episode will start up like nothing happened.

It’s also worth pointing out that as the murder mystery unfolds and the stakes get progressively higher, the characters act increasingly stupid and the whole film gets increasingly sillier. On the one hand, I get how this approach can make for good comedy. On the other hand, it goes against every instinct I have as a storyteller.

That’s what it really comes down to with The Bob’s Burgers Movie and with “Bob’s Burgers” in general: It just isn’t for me. I get the appeal, but it’s not for me. My impression of the film is that it’s an episode of the show scaled up in budget and screentime to a 100-minute feature. I’m disappointed that the film wasn’t made as a more functional jumping-on point for newcomers, but it’s not like the filmmakers ever really promised that to begin with.

If you’re a fan of the show, I’m sure you’ve already seen the movie and I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Anyone who isn’t familiar with the show or doesn’t care for it may safely skip this one. Unless maybe you haven’t gotten started on the show and you’re considering whether or not it’s worth your time. In that case, the movie would be a pretty good bellwether, though perhaps you might be better off spending 30 minutes on Hulu than 100 minutes in your local multiplex.


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