Fox’s animated TV series “Bob’s Burgers,” which centers on restaurateur Bob Belcher (voice of H. Jon Benjamin) and his titular beachside burger joint, may be something of an acquired taste, like the many bizarre, pun-titled variants of the fast food staple that Bob has developed over 12 seasons. Salvador Cauliflower Burger, anyone?
The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever called the series, upon its 2011 debut, “pointlessly vulgar and deliberately dull.” Despite that, the show has gone on to develop a cult following, proof of which would seem to be the new feature film based on it, titled, simply enough, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.”
But in our dismissive 2011 description lies a kernel of truth. The strange appeal of “Burgers,” both the show and the film, is precisely in its mix of the mundane and the pointless (or, to be kinder, the absurd). It is a blend of proprietary seasoning, savory to those who have developed an appetite for it, perhaps sickening to some others, that is preserved lovingly in “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.”
The story begins with the deliberately dull – Bob’s efforts to get an extension on a loan payment from a humorless bank employee – before quickly segueing to the deliciously bizarre: a six-year-old unsolved murder case, which comes to light only when a cavernous sinkhole opens in the road in front of Bob’s establishment, offering up not only the skeletal remains of a boardwalk carny, but an opportunity for Bob’s three school-age children to investigate his demise at risk of their own lives.
The three amateur sleuths are Louise Belcher (Kristen Schaal), the prematurely pushy youngest daughter; middle sibling Gene (Eugene Mirman), an amiable, slightly dim and arguably gender-fluid aspiring musician, whose band is called the Itty Bitty Ditty Committee; and Tina Belcher (Dan Mintz), who dreams of dating the son of Bob’s across-the street pizza-parlor rival.
Benjamin voices the would-be boyfriend, too, as well as several other characters, without really trying to make any of them sound terribly distinct from one another. It’s part of the low-rent charm. Go with it.
One of the show’s hallmarks has been its regular celebrity cameos, which have included comedic talent from Keegan-Michael Key to Sarah Silverman. But those who were hoping for a Simpsons-esque who’s who of voice actors to pop up in the movie may be disappointed. The most prominent players in the cast are Kevin Kline and Zach Galifianakis, who return to their regular roles as Bob’s hardhearted landlord, Calvin Fischoeder, and his ne’er-do-well, possibly psychopathic brother, Felix.
One of the best performances, however, has always been that of John Roberts, who was nominated for a 2015 Emmy for his portrayal of Bob’s wife, Linda. It’s a characterization that Roberts has said is based on his own mother, and Linda’s indefatigable, chipper enthusiasm is a mainstay of the film’s story. Despite all the mayhem that ensues, including the possibility of being buried alive, Linda is “unstop-timistic,” to use her own non-word.
I would argue that Linda is the character who is most emblematic of why “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (and the show) works. We all know, and have probably been annoyed by, someone like her. That’s evidence not of the mundane, but of recognizable human behavior, albeit rendered in a cartoonish style that is simultaneously crude and over the top.
Even when the film’s action takes us to a slum called Carnyapolis, home to the riffraff from the Wonder Wharf amusement park – now celebrating its 80th anniversary, or “octa-wharfiversary” – or to a creepy hidden lair beneath the pier, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” feels as real as it does surreal. Put in terms that Bob (and perhaps only Bob fans) can understand: This movie may not be the Meatsiah – beef tartare inside a medium-well burger inside beef Wellington – but it’s pretty well done.