This week the much-hyped animated feature
by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg was premièred at the SXSW festival as an
‘in-progress’ production. The incomplete film has received generally positive reviews, but setting
those aside, does the film have the potential upon final release to become a
setback for adult animated features?
Animation for adults has progressed enormously in the last
25 years or thereabouts. Beavis and Butthead, South Park, and others proved
that animation could entertain more than just kids. However what was able to
work on the small screen, hasn’t really translated over to the big one to quite
the same extent. Budgets are partly to blame, with animated features being
rather expensive to produce in general, and an R-rating is a sure way of
limited a film’s potential box office take; something studios try to avoid if
So that has made it all the more
interesting that Sausage Party was conceived with the idea of going full hog on
a raunchy, R-rated film, and using animation as the chosen artistic technique.
The notion that there is a neglected (and profitable) niche audience was no
doubt a factor in the decision to go ahead with the film, and partly the reason
it took eight years to complete, and that’s a risky move for a very important
Adults have far more discerning tastes than
kids. The latter of whom are more than happy to sit through just about any
movie regardless of how good it actually is. Adults on the other hand, are far
more picky about what they choose to watch. Partly because they don’t have
enough time to watch everything, and partly because they actually know what
they like. Conversely, this means that they value the quality of a film, and
place a lot of emphasis on that factor when deciding whether to watch it or
Animation is unfortunately continuing to
shake off the stigma that it is only for kids, and despite the enormous
progress in recent times, for the majority of the public, it remains very much
the preserve of minors. This is despite some rather good adult features from
both eastern and western studios, and despite the greater exposure of such
films to audiences that were previously out of reach.
What all this has to to with Sausage Party
is rather simple. If the film is being hyped up as a great, animated adult
adventure, and then turns out to be quite the opposite, there are real
implications for the artform and industry as a whole. Besides the existing
stigma of being a kid-friendly form of entertainment, in the minds of the
general public, it could potentially stay that way.
If Sausage Party were to be a really bad
film (hypothetically speaking), the first knock-on effect would be that
everyone else that is also attempting an adult feature would have to
immediately re-evaluate their position, and potentially halt production. Anyone
else that was even thinking about producing such a feature would have to do the
same. Why? Because the economics and risk factors will have changed, and not
for the better.
It’s quite similar to how CGI films
eventually became popular. Despite its technological ingenuity, 1982 film TRON
is widely regarded as having set CGI filmmaking back about ten years. The
simple reason is that it wasn’t a box office smash, and highlighted the risks
involved with using CGI. On the fip side, Star Wars which was released a few
years previously, exemplified just how good special effects combined with a
great film could accelerate interest and willingness to undertake something
that was previously very risky.
Of course Sausage Party could be a TRON and
generate a tepid response, and it could also be a Star Wars and generate a
profound interest in adult animation that’s been severely lacking in western
countries. It could also be a total flop, and that could keep adult animated
features in the dark for a good few years to come.
Are the filmmakers aware of how much
expectation and future prosperity are riding on their shoulders? Judging from
some comments from Seth Rogen
to the LA Times, it would appear to be the case. This bodes well for the film
and despite its raunchy nature, it appears to at least be an honest attempt to
prove that animation is capable of more than just all-ages fare. The film comes
out in August, so until then, we’ll have to hold out breath to see how well the
general public reacts.