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The Untold Truth Of Sausage Party

Sausage Party had a shockingly good opening weekend, but unsurprisingly, the R-rated sex comedy has generated plenty of controversy. From cries of racism to a parental advisory site describing all of the movie's sex acts in vivid detail, to a theater accidentally playing the R-rated trailer before Finding Dory, few sensibilities have been spared. Some controversy, however, has less to do with weiner jokes and more with the movie's troubled production. Here's a bit of the surprising buzz regarding the NSFW cartoon.

It started as a joke

Sausage Party isn't the first time Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, and Jonah Hill have been in a movie together. They first teamed up in 2007 for Superbad, an all-time classic of dude comedy. When promoting the movie, Rogen says journalists would ask him, Cera, or Hill what their next movie was going to be, and, as a joke, they'd say "Sausage Party," reasoning that it "sounded like the kind of movie that journalists expected us to be making next." Nearly a decade later, when Rogen had the idea of making an R-rated cartoon, he kept coming back to the name of that fake movie, and ultimately he and writing partner Evan Goldberg devised a concept and a script.

Rogen had to convince Meat Loaf to voice a meatloaf

Theatrical classic rock singer Meat Loaf has a cameo voicing—what else?—a boxed meatloaf. He even belts out his huge 1993 hit, "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)." Literally nobody else could work for that role, so Rogen had no choice but to lock down Mr. Loaf. During a Q&A after a screening of Sausage Party at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, Rogen said he personally met with Meat Loaf to pitch him the part. Afterward, Rogen says, he was met by "Just 20 seconds of silence, and then he said, 'Yeah, I get it.'"

It could have been even dirtier

One of the most memorable—and shocking—moments of the film comes late, when all of the food-come-to-life in the grocery store engages in a scene of unbridled, graphically rendered, sexual debauchery. And yet, it could have been even more filthy. The sequence was initially an astounding 12 minutes long and contained far more instances of foods doing perverse and profane things to one another. Rogen and Goldberg gave animators free reign to be as creatively nasty as possible. "We found out that animators can be pretty sick when told they can do whatever they want," said Rogen.

Diddy didn't do it

Speaking of cameos, rapper/actor/mogul/Making the Band star Sean "Puffy" Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, a.k.a. P. Diddy, a.k.a. Diddy, was almost in the movie. Rogen's team approached Combs for a cameo: to voice a bottle of Courvoisier cognac. (It's a reference to the 2001 Busta Rhymes hit "Pass the Courvoisier," on which Diddy was a featured artist.) But when it came time to record his lines, Diddy dropped out. The reason: He didn't want to provide a voiceover for a cartoon. Rogen says Combs understood that the movie was about food come to life, but he apparently thought it was live-action, and thought he and the other performers would be wearing food costumes.

Working conditions for animators sound awful

According to allegations made by former workers, Nitrogen Studios, the company responsible for the animation, kept its costs low by forcing employees to work overtime for free. Dozens of animators left the studio over the course of the production, claiming that if they didn't stay late or work the weekends for free, their work would be given to someone who would. Furthermore, many claimed the company did not provide food (or access to food) for workers who did work long hours for free. The subsequent exodus of talent forced Nitrogen to hire recently graduated students to complete the film.

Only after a second wave of animators petitioned did Annapurna, the production company that bankrolled the picture, step in and provide the team with food and paid overtime. In perhaps the worst accusations against the studio, two animators say their reputations were threatened by executives when they gave their notice. All claims have been denied by Nitrogen, but the company's former employees have continued speaking out anonymously.

Dozens of animators were left uncredited

Filmgoers first suspected that making Sausage Party may not have been much of a party at all after allegations surfaced in a heated comment thread by anonymous former employees following an interview with the film's directors (one of whom is head of Nitrogen). According to one claim, as many as half of those who worked on the film went uncredited. While some who left the production have stated that poor treatment is not unusual on a non-union job, other uncredited animators maintain that their services spanned the bulk of the entire production. While anonymous allegations have to be taken with a grain of salt, it's worth noting that of the 83 Sausage Party animators listed on IMDb, only 47 were listed in the credits.

As one animator has pointed out, the team's issues are strictly with Nitrogen—and it seems fairly likely that Seth Rogen and Sony were never made aware of whatever went down during production.

Nobody wanted to make it

Sausage Party is the brainchild of writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, stemming from conversations about their beloved Toy Story. After developing a story and artwork, they teamed up with co-directors Conrad Vernon and Nitrogen head Greg Tiernan. They pitched the movie to literally dozens of studios, and even considered seeking private investors when they invariably got shut down. Even with Rogen and Jonah Hill attached to star, there seemed to be no studio willing to gamble on a raunchy adult cartoon tackling religious themes. Rogen's mission of making an R-rated Pixar movie dragged on for eight years, until the team eventually got the support of and Annapurna and Sony Pictures.

While it certainly isn't the first adult feature cartoon to hit the big screens (earlier examples include Fritz the Cat, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, and Anomalisa), Sausage Party takes animated ribaldry to gleefully offensive new heights. Sacha Baron Cohen, whose hit mockumentary Borat broke a few taboos in its day, called it "appalling" when he viewed an early screening, adding "it's the single craziest thing I've seen in my whole f—-ing life." It was even more of a surprise coming from Nitrogen, whose most notable previous credits came through Happily N'Ever After and five years of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends episodes.

The MPAA threatened it with an NC-17 rating

The version that ended up in theaters pushed plenty of buttons, but believe it or not, Sausage Party's original cut took things even further. As Rogen explained during a visit to Howard Stern, this was partly by design; like many filmmakers, directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan understand that when you're taking a project like this to the ratings board, it can help to insert some extra-raunchy sequences as "sacrificial lambs."

To those who've seen Sausage Party, it should come as no surprise that the MPAA's focus ended up being the food orgy at the end of the film—into which Rogen recalled they "probably added six things" that they fully expected would be stricken. To his surprise, the board focused on a single bit: the hairy genitalia sported by a piece of pita bread, which they "digitally shaved" in order to make an R rating.

They hired an Oscar-winning composer for the score

If you picked up a distinct Disney vibe while watching Sausage Party, it probably wasn't just because of the animation. Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, whose credits include such Mouse House classics as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, was hired to compose the score—and the show-stopping opening number—in an effort to, as Vernon told The Hollywood Reporter, "make the ridiculous actually ground itself."

Kind of a surprising gig for the guy who gave us "A Whole New World" and "Colors of the Wind," to say the least, but as Menken explained, it wouldn't seem like such an odd fit if you knew him offscreen. "When I first started the project," he recalled, "I remember telling my daughters that I was doing a project, Sausage Party, and they looked at me and went 'Dad? Sausage party?' In real life, I'm actually a very R-rated person."

It almost had a different ending

Rogen screened an early cut of Sausage Party at the SXSW film festival in the spring of 2016, telling attendees that they were "truly seeing something that no will ever get to see in the world"—and it turned out he was right in more ways than one. That version's ending found the characters exiting the animated world and entering real life, a la the last act of The Lego Movie, but Rogen ultimately opted to go a different direction...for now. As he later told Fandango, they may actually end up using that idea for a potential sequel.

"We thought, well, if that was the first scene of the next movie it's probably not what you would want it to be, with them just seeing us and finding us basically," Rogen pointed out. "But the idea of a live-action/animated movie, like a Who Framed Roger Rabbit?-style hybrid is also very exciting, mostly because Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is one of my favorite movies of all time."

There are jokes at Pixar's expense

Pixar is the undisputed king of modern-day animation, and the company that helped usher in the style of CGI animation that Sausage Party uses. The filmmakers honored that debt by actively making fun of Pixar: Druggie (James Franco), the guy who gets high on bath salts, is seen driving a car with a license plate reading A113. That's a recurring Easter egg in Pixar movies, which references the animation classroom at the California Institute of the Arts where a lot of Pixar employees first started their education in professional animation. (Also, the same car sports a "Dixar" bumper sticker.)

Sausage Party was inspired by a sausage party

Like any big idea, Sausage Party came together over time, in a series of "aha!" moments. So while Seth Rogen and company used "Sausage Party" as a joke answer to the commonly asked "what are you doing next?" question, the filmmakers have cited a few different inspiration stories. At a Producers Guild of America event in 2014, a year before the film was released, co-writer Evan Goldberg said the impetus came when he, Jonah Hill, and a bunch of other guys were hanging out and smoking marijuana. In other words, the all-male affair was a "sausage party," prompting Hill to remark, "What if it was literally sausages?"

It was conceived as a dark Pixar movie

Seth Rogen remembers the moment of creation a little differently. He says that he and his wife were having dinner with Jonah Hill, and were talking about how much they loved Pixar movies, particularly ones like Toy Story that were about "exploring the secret world of these various everyday objects." Then they started tossing around the hypothetical notion of how funny and potentially "f**ked up" a Pixar-style movie about food could be. And that's the tack Rogen and Goldberg took when writing the screenplay.

Some kids wanting to see Finding Dory accidentally saw the Sausage Party trailer

The biggest prank Sausage Party played on Pixar was entirely accidental. Shortly after Finding Dory, the long-anticipated sequel to Finding Nemo, opened to record-breaking crowds in June 2016, a theater full of kids at the Brenden Concord 14 in California there to see the fish flick got an extra treat. The projection room accidentally played the trailer for Sausage Party—and not just any trailer, but the extra-filthy "red band" version. The theater's VP of operations, Walter Eichinger, quickly issued an explanation...and apology. "Playing that trailer was a one-time honest mistake by a theater manager moving screens around in effort to accommodate several large last-minute groups wanting to see Dory," Eichinger said. "We regret it, apologize for it, and we are not happy that it happened."

It was judged to be an acceptable-for-kids movie in Sweden

In the United States, the Motion Picture Association of America thought Sausage Party was so filthy that it nearly burdened the film with an NC-17 rating. The ratings board is apparently a bit more relaxed in Sweden. Despite the many, many scenes of sex, drugs, and bad language, Sausage Party earned an rather lax rating in Sweden, deemed suitable for kids as young as 7, who could see it in theaters so long as they were accompanied by an adult.

There was a Sausage Party sausage

Tie-in deals are a big side business for movie studios—it helps offset the high costs of production while simultaneously promoting the film. Sausage Party didn't have a lot of corporate partners clamoring to be involved. "Shockingly, no major sausage company wanted to partner with a movie that condemns the eating of sausages," Rogen said. However, the movie did manage to work out a promotional tie-in with the hot dog restaurant chain Dog Haus. Dog Haus briefly sold an item called The Naughty Dog. Created by Top Chef winner Ilan Hall, it consisted of a spicy kielbasa topped with crispy onions, spicy onions, and horseradish mayonnaise on a grilled bun.

Edward Norton was instrumental in the film's casting

One of the first people Rogen told about Sausage Party when it got off the ground was his good friend, Oscar-nominated actor Edward Norton. The often quite serious actor, star of The 25th Hour and American History X, was thrilled with the concept of the movie and asked to be a part of it. Norton even came up with the idea for the character he'd eventually play in the movie, Sammy Bagel, Jr.—"a bagel that sounded like Woody Allen." Rogen also thinks that Norton's early involvement helped assemble the all-star cast. "He essentially was our casting director on the movie—I think he was ultimately the one who talked Kristen Wiig into doing it, also. He really helped wrangle the cast, and because he was one of the first people involved in it, it was easy to get other people because we always could say, 'We got Edward Norton in the movie!'"

The movie was a whole new world for one of the directors

Animated movies are time-consuming and arduous to make, so many often have two credited directors. This was true for Sausage Party, which was helmed by Conrad Vernon (best known for Monsters vs. Aliens, in which Seth Rogen voiced a monster named B.O.B.) and Greg Tiernan. Content-wise, it was quite a shift for Tiernan. A veteran animator who worked on projects like All Dogs Go to Heaven, Cool World, and The Tigger Movie, his only previous animation directing experience was overseeing dozens of episodes of Thomas & Friends, the gentle British preschool series about anthropomorphic trains.

Animation veterans approve of the movie

While Sausage Party is Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's first feature-length animated film, veterans of the animation community embraced both the movie and its creators. Sony mounted an Oscar campaign for the movie after its huge box office take and held a screening to get the attention of members of the animation wing of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the event, Rogen gave a speech in which he said he hopes Sausage Party "allows people to do things with animation that haven't been done before, and that they really treat it as a medium, not a genre." Later that night, Oscar-nominated animation legend Bill Plympton caught up with Rogen. He told him his speech had been "just great. That's exactly what we need people like you to talk about."