THE BOB’S BURGER MOVIE gives us a few origin stories for the long-running animated sit-com artfully woven into a brand-new musical adventure. Far from playing out as an extended episode of the series, it expands to fill its feature-length running time with a murder mystery, a financial crisis, and a nifty low-speed chase involving an ersatz clam and an equally ersatz lobster.
As usual, Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) is suffering financial woes while his upbeat, dance-happy wife, Linda (John Roberts), offers surprisingly Zen pep talks and her unbridled enthusiasm. Just as the bank refuses an extension on their loan, a sink hole opens up right in front of the eponymous restaurant, making their chances of making the seven-day deadline iffy at best. Not even the crowds gravitating to the festivities surrounding Wonder Wharf’s 80th anniversary of mid- to low-level carny-style entertainment can provide enough foot traffic to save the we eatery, what with no way for their feet to access the restaurant’s front door. Things take an ever more dire turn when Louise (Kristen Schaal), the youngest, and most cynical, Belcher, sets out to prove that she’s not a baby to the older girls teasing her at school, despite the ever-present pink bunny ears crowning her head. Her plan to show them, show them all, turns the sinkhole into a crime scene, forcing her and siblings, hefty metrosexual musician Gene (Eugene Mirman), and boy-crazy overthinker Tina (Dan Minz), to help her solve the mystery, save the restaurant, and prove once and for all that she’s brave.
Fans of the series will be rewarded with the pleasure of seeing the rich panoply of secondary characters (Hello there, Little King Trashmouth!) make appearances long and short, as well as a story that delves into the secret recesses of Wonder Wharf, and the eccentric Fischoeder family that runs it. Kevin Kline as Calvin, the one-eyed Fischoeder has never been in better form as Bob’s oblivious, and wildly wealthy, landlord with unpredictable enunciation. Nor has Zach Galifianakis playing the whining younger Fischoeder, Felix, as the infantilized brothers ponder, incorrectly, how the common people live and whether or not stuffed animals have a life of their own.
The larger budget of the film opens up the action, allowing all concerned to move much more freely, and to give us a chance to drink in details, such as to be found in Felix’s deluxe treehouse, in ways we haven’t seen before. It also doesn’t make the mistake of tricking out the simple animation of the series. There is a bit more depth, thanks to things like shadowing, that a bigger budget allows, but the bright colors and simple lines remain. giving us its signature look as a touchstone.
What stays the same is the odd chemistry that this family has, being both off-putting and irresistible. It’s the absolute confidence they evince as proudly wisecracking oddballs, as well as the closeness that may not respect boundaries, but does have the sort of unconditional love that is nothing less than aspirational. They bring out the best in each other. It’s why the death-defying situations offer genuine tension, despite the TV series assurance that none of the regular characters will die.
It’s also very, very funny, with a dry wit and vocal performances that wring the best out of even the occasional mediocre joke. Plus, there’s the eager poignance of Bob’s devoted buddy, and best customer, Teddy (Larry Murphy), a character given to melodrama, introspection, and gestures that are as grand as they are often misguided. This is deadpan humor delivered just the right note of whimsy.
THE BOB’S BURGER MOVIE has a great deal of heart stitched through a story about one man’s dreams of cooking up the best burger possible while doing battle with capitalism that is indifferent to talent, and with his own poor marketing skills. All concerned have perfectly translated the series, an expert blend of gritty real-world reality and surreal silliness, into a great film worthy of its place on the big screen.