The Bob's Burgers Movie as a work of animation

Louise Belcher is the star!

The most unconventionally cute movie I've ever seen — full of bunny-eared hats, friendly play-conversations with dolls and toys (er, collectibles), and yearnings of childhood courage. The Bob's Burgers Movie is the first 2D animated English-langauge feature film to come out in ages; if professional film critics knew anything, it would be treated with the same fanfare as a total solar eclipse.

The Belchers, as determined as they are to have their sunny-side-up-summer, are in financial peril as they can't pay the loan or the rent. They experience an onslaught of one disaster after another; a sinkhole opens in front of their burger joint. Atop this premise is a throughstory that deals with Louise Belcher, who finds herself balking the taunt of being called a baby at school, as her adorable (and iconic) hat with the bunny ears begin to attract unwanted attention. In various moving plans to prove herself as brave, it becomes a mission to save the resturaunt, unexpectedly culminating in something deeply emotional and touching.

Now, I haven't even seen Bob's Burgers the series, but I'm in love. The plot variously forks off, Tina's painfully awkward tween romance sets up tension point, and Gene's ambition to put on a stage performance for his Itty Bitty Ditty Committee band helps edge things forward. Still has me buzzing with good feelings these days later. It was a semi-musical too, the cheerful and catchy music is much of the joy. The opening track is available on online, but I haven't listened to it to just preserve the sanctity of listening to a song once and loving it and keeping it in my head. For now.

Did I mention this film is funny? It's not just the dry one-liners that do it (that's the first time an exterminator said he's gonna pray for us…), but also the peculiar tact for observing quietly absurd circumstances—I can't explain why pile of dirt being dumped next to a hole that needs to be filled is so hilarious, other than it says everything about subcontracted logistics and city planning. Then there's layers of background details, absolute gold like signage that reads Ships and Giggles is allowed to be easily missed.

I've heard other people who were similiarly ignorant of the series surprise this film has a BBFC PG rating, for a show whose art direction resembles the same genre of adult animation as The Simpsons or Family Guy. Not at all! Now I don't want to look like I'm making some moral case for good, clean, humour (that's not what this is about), but will say the classifer adult animation is a term I've never been fond of, one that actually bears little relation with adulthood, and really just used to refer to media with with an all-encompassing (and usually superficial) disposition to ugly and horny-oriented themes while looking as awful as it wants to be. Notice meanwhile, how what's often called children's animation is often more thematically intelligent than what's typically seen in adult animation, since it's made with the interest of the welfare and happiness of children, and therefore requires effort and philosophical sophistication to actually be optimistic and promote useful attitudes about life.

So which is Bob's Burgers? It's avowedly itself, really. Take Louise, she totally defies the prototypical kiddie cartoon idea of what makes a cute little girl. In fact she's kind of unnervingly menacing and gross, the atmospheric grossness [that] clings to the Belchers like burger grease, as The New York Times put it,* encoded in the slightly crude and stilted character designs. But they are otherwise fun to look at (a principle of good design once described by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz). This is an aesthetic in service of actually somewhat complicated narrative about a family who's poor and unglamourous, but are ambitious — the ambition to run a small business, the ambition to strike a summer romance, the ambition to get a band going, and the ambition to save the resturaunt—and so it's a movie that asks what tests of character bring these things about.

On the topic of look-and-feel, this film works through and drops down into really unique and interesting spaces. The scene designs aren't just creative, but are skilfully depicted with real cinematic technique: in most scenes, every useful angle is shown, it's so immersive. It could be a video game map. Also, it seems that journeys towards the Wharf happens towards the left of the screen, and journeys towards the resturaunt happen to the right. I'm reminded of Digibro's vid on Spirited Away, who noted that for any person who watched it even once can memorise the entire journey Chihiro takes through the bathouse just because of that sort of uniquely coherent planning of space and direction.

This looks so good.

It's sad about how little attention this has got so far. The box office figures so far, 20M USD after a week, reflect the much expected sentiment that this was going to be niche film. Fine, whatever. But then there's comments like, did this really need a movie? I'm astounded by this utter contempt for the medium of animation. This is a roundabout way of saying if this isn't for kids, then who is this for? I take the point that the series seemed a bit too lofi to imagine it having a really valuable big screen incarnation, but go watch it, it is cinematically large. It throughly justifies its existence. There is a running joke about cartoon movies having only a lick of lighting, except the lighting here isn't trivial at all.

So yeah, really funny and heartfelt movie.

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