The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a snack
On the scale of animated spin-off movies, THE BOB’S BURGERS MOVIE sits comfortably in the middle, like a burger patty crowned with the top bun of SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT and above the bottom bun of THE SIMPSONS MOVIE which rests, deservedly, beneath the wilted lettuce, ketchup and mustard. In fact, THE SIMPSONS MOVIE underlines something I discovered during my break-neck watch-through of the TV show prior to seeing the movie: Bob Belcher is the character Homer Simpson used to be, so many years ago. A loveable loser who, despite always trying to do the right thing, could never catch a break. Homer has long since succumbed to mean-spirited buffoonery but Bob Belcher, I am pleased to say, stands resolute and resplendent in his everyman appeal, even with the leap to the big screen.
When a sinkhole opens in front of the restaurant, jeopardising Bob’s plans to make his bank loan payment with a successful week’s trading during Wonder Wharf’s 80th anniversary, Bob fears all may be lost. But when Teddy builds him a mobile burger cart, things are looking up – at least until a skeleton is found in the sinkhole, opening up a decades-old murder mystery.
Despite building its story around the grisly discovery of a skeleton, THE BOB’S BURGERS MOVIE keeps its stakes deliberately low. Of course, the restaurant is once again facing existential financial ruin – what else is new? – but Tina, Gene and Louise are struggling with minor crises of their own while, arguably, it’s Calvin Fischoeder who’s in the biggest trouble after he’s accused of murder.
There are a few musical numbers early on in the film – all of them are bops – although, like FROZEN, the movie does seem to forget it’s a musical around the two-thirds mark, which is a bit of a shame. Since I started watching the show (around four or five weeks ago) it’s been a perennial curiosity to me that the series has a particularly distinctive voice cast who notably lack vocal versatility (if you close your eyes during some episodes it can be tricky to figure out which character is actually talking at any given time) yet they still manage to pull off a large cast of recurring characters. It’s a testament, I think, to the innate likeability of the set-up and premise, especially once the series found its groove around season 2. By the way, not all of your favourite background characters make it into this story but any that you miss turn up to shake their groove thing during the closing credits.
Essentially, THE BOB’S BURGERS MOVIE avoids the usual pitfalls of trying to go bigger than a TV episode might normally do – narratively speaking – and by keeping its ambitions grounded, it plays to the strengths of the series as a whole. There are no incongruously drastic character arcs, but the story is charming and the writing sparkles with wit. Visually, the film keeps the series’ distinctive look but its richer in tone and texture with more dynamic and elaborate musical numbers. Crucially, it justifies its extended runtime without feeling like an obviously padded extended episode. It might not convert any new fans, but it will reward those who are already fans – whether for years or, like me, just jumping on the bandwagon.