‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie’ Aims Big Without Losing Its Oddball Appeal

Alci Rengifo

It is almost expected now that most series that make a mark on television will eventually be expanded into a movie. The trick “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” does surprisingly well is find a way to spin a good film out of an animated series that is brilliantly effective in 20-minute episodes. “Bob’s Burgers” has been running for twelve seasons on Fox, amassing a loyal following based on its dysfunctional charm. Its main characters, the Belchers, are lovable for embodying that sensation many of us have that our family is somehow quirkier or odder than the rest. Episodes are driven by little life crises that affect the family’s burger joint, which itself can sometimes be a health hazard. The movie can fall into some of the potholes of attempting to find a worthy big movie plot for its subjects, but the appeal is all there.

As the movie opens Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and wife Linda (John Roberts) are trying to be on the good side of a loan officer by offering him a tasty, specially-made burger. They need an extension but unfortunately, not even a burger can convince the bank. An extra problem presents itself when a giant sinkhole appears right in front of the Belchers’ restaurant, prompting threats from landlord Calvin Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) to not cut them any slack on rent. Meanwhile the Belcher kids are facing their own summertime trials. Louise (Kristen Schaal) faces some scrutiny over her trademark pink bunny ears cap. Tina (Dan Mintz) has fallen hard for Jimmy Pesto Jr., who tends to like having friends aim chicken nuggets at his mouth, but love is blind. Gene (Eugene Mirman) is making musical instruments out of plastic spoons and other items, hoping for a future for his band. Then, in the sinkhole a murder mystery deepens involving a corpse and the disappearances of a local “carny,” Cotton Candy Dan.

Animated films like “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” can arrive like a welcome escape in a summer that will surely be ruled by more expensive blockbusters. This is a small, pleasing movie with a wicked funny bone. Although not as edgy as the classic early days of “The Simpsons,” “Bob’s Burgers” has kept that kind of satirical spirit going at Fox, posing as a family sitcom. If there are plays of manners, this is a comedy of eccentricities. Co-directors Loren Bouchard, who created the show, and Bernard Derriman use some familiar methods to expand the concept into a movie. Now we get oddball song numbers that also make sense within the “Bob’s Burgers” world. The opening one is a quirky celebration of summer that culminates with Tina’s hilariously misguided crush. Other characters from the show like Calvin’s brother, the pompous Felix Fischoeder (Zach Galifianakis) are back, seamlessly fused into the bigger plot. And of course there is the show’s famous play with words. The sinkhole in front of the burger joint comes at the worst time since the Belchers are expecting a wave of business thanks to Octo-Wharfiversary, the 80th anniversary of the local Wonder Wharf. 

This is also a visually rich animated film in ways that place it apart from the norm. It’s designed with a crisp yet wonderfully gritty style. The Belcher family are always a delight because of their elongated, oddball shapes that make them almost endearing. Tina in particular works very well on the big screen with her depressed, low-key air. Ocean Avenue pops with sunshine which at night gives way to the eerie sinkhole, where the Belcher kids descend to initiate the movie’s wild adventure. The mystery involving the missing Carny doesn’t even amount to much, but that’s the point. Even when the movie tries to go bigger by introducing us to Carnyopolis, a shantytown where even rubber duckies are an object of gambling, what’s more engaging are the hilariously wrong puns and aloof attitude of someone like Bob. Linda is that mom we all love but can feel embarrassed for, as in moments when she thinks new piping applied in the sinkhole defines “hip.” We can appreciate such characters because they are so humanly simple. Bob just wants to have a little bit of burger success and fast food glory. By the end, Tina might just discover that liking the chicken nugget kid was not worth her time in a world that can offer much more. In such a microcosmic style, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” is a tonic that reminds us that we can still appreciate the little things at the movies.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie” releases May 27 in theaters nationwide.