If you’d like to know how perilous the jump from television animation to feature animation can be, ask the guys who tried to pull off the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. A silly promotional LED placard of one of its lesser known characters (a Mooninite, to be exact) flipping the bird placed in an inopportune spot in Boston set off a national bomb scare and led to one of the Kennedy’s introducing a terrorism hoax act in the Senate. While, sure, most folks don’t attempt guerrilla marketing to help get the word out about their small-to-big screen adult-focused animated adaptation, trying to expand the episode format into a feature-length series and find ways to explore the characters and setting on a bigger canvas can prove to be just as risky (if, well, less prone to induce shock and paranoia among the residents of Cambridge, Mass.)
The Loren Bouchard hive can rest easy tonight. The Bob’s Burgers Movie is sensational, the kind of once-a-decade-or-so adaptation that so perfectly harnesses the spirit of the show while also raising the stakes for an experience you just can’t catch at home on Fox. It joins that holy pantheon of TV-to-screen entries like South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, and The Simpsons Movie that evolve their source material into something decidedly theatrical without sacrificing the inherent spirit of what keeps people showing up week after week to see what their favorite characters are up to. Bouchard and co-director Bernard Derriman find a story that feels a size up from your traditional Bob’s Burgers storyline but one that somehow seizes every single little character beat that keeps the Belchers and the various denizens of their awkwardly lovely middle-class seaside corner of town.
Where shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy have struggled over the years to maintain relevance, with Springfield always trying to go bigger and more starry, and Quahog continuing to reach for every low hanging fruit on the poor taste tree, Bob’s Burgers has taken the mantle from King of the Hill as being the long-running Fox animated show that knows exactly what it’s lane is and never gets too big for its plate. Part of the charm always comes with knowing Bob’s Burgers isn’t ever going to go off-menu. Like the little, chummy spot that the Belchers run below their home, it’s a simple setup and a reliable bite each and every time you show up. The big-screen venture takes everything great about the show and maximizes it into a spectacle only Bouchard and company could conjure. It feels bigger than it actually is and goes to deeper, somehow darker depths emotionally and story-wise than you might expect for a movie that inspired a fart sound to pair with the proceeding 20th Century fanfare.
The story somehow feels smack dab in 2022, with the Belchers struggling to keep up with loan payments that could cause seizure of their kitchen equipment. It sends Bob down one of his patented Belcher spirals, but because this is a movie, financial anxiety is only the beginning of the problems. When a giant sinkhole pops up under a crumbled sidewalk and blocks off the entrance to Bob’s restaurant, it sends the Belcher clan into their most dire straits yet.
Compounded by youngest daughter Louise being called a baby at recess, the Belcher family must go through the wringer to try and stay afloat while accidentally kicking off the grander plot that takes the show into arguably its most dangerous storyline yet. While, yes, the movie does hedge into a murder mystery in the way that only Bob’s Burgers can (a musical number at a camp full of carnival workers nestles in organically), it’s arguably the funniest, and most moving, thing Bouchard’s team has done with the Belcher clan yet.
If you go back to the hallowed Simpsons episode “Last Exit to Springfield,” you’ll recall Homer Simpson’s noble-if-stumbling attempt to secure his daughter Lisa’s braces. It’s regarded as one of the best Simpsons episodes in its golden run because it humanizes Homer past his easy blunders and shows him to be deep down a caring family man who loves his wife and kids. At the heart of every great adult animated show is some sort of bond that makes all the hysterics worth it. Even in South Park, the friendship those four foul-mouthed fourth-graders have powered them through a potential apocalypse in their movie.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie thrives because it digs into the bond the Belchers have for each other, one that can seemingly withstand economic anxiety, a sinkhole, a murder plot, and multiple musical interludes. The great animated shows always know how to find little pockets of piercing humanity in the most unlikely of places, and The Bob’s Burgers Movie gives Louise the lion’s share as she tries to keep her family from losing their restaurant while proving to herself that, indeed, she’s growing into the courage that all children seek to find when questioned by a peer. It’s Kristen Schaal’s finest hour with the character that’s come to represent why she’s such a great voice actor.
While not every Ocean Avenue player gets a full pull of screentime, Bouchard and company give side characters like flailing guidance counselor Mr. Frond and sassy teen Tammy just enough side gags to make a mark. The film makes brilliant use of the Fischodoeder family, with Kevin Kline’s unlikely recurring role on the show giving the Oscar winner his best big-screen role in years. David Wain’s Grover Fischoeder nearly steals the film, though, with material that’s best left saved for the main course. And, Teddy fans can rest assured that the honorary Belcher and burger frequenter gets some of the film’s biggest laughs, including one with the Belcher alley raccoon that will make you laugh so hard you’ll wonder if your lungs can sustain that perfect comedic timing.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie works so well because it deeply knows itself. The love cooked into every episode blends without fail with that dry, laser-sharp comedy in the theatrical effort, making this one of the all-time television-to-movie adaptations. Back in the early Aughts, Bouchard co-created an animated series called Home Movies, where you might recall a young whippersnapper named Brendon who had dreams of becoming a filmmaker. It was Bouchard’s breakout moment as a creator, and one of the incomparable H. Jon Benjamin’s earlier roles as Coach John McGuirk that showed his prowess as a generational voice talent. To see the two, all these years later, make what will be one of the great animated movies of the 2020s, is thrilling. The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a triumph for the medium and a fierce reminder of what a special show we’ve still got. Along with Pixar’s outstanding Turning Red, animation’s having a hell of a year so far.