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The Bob's Burgers Movie Review: The Belchers Go Big Screen

EDITORS' RATING: 9/10
Pros
  • The heart of the show makes the jump to the big screen.
  • The humor is on point.
  • The cast is fantastic.
  • The animation style feels bigger without ever losing the style of the series.
Cons
  • It might be a little hard for newcomers to grasp all of the jokes and the tone.
  • It could have benefitted from being just a little longer to flesh out some of the subplots.
  • Some fan favorite characters are left out.

"Bob's Burgers" has always benefitted from a certain "little show that could" sense of scrappiness. Despite being on the air for more than a decade, its place among animation titans like "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" — and its story of a family just trying to scrape by with their small business — has always made it feel like something of an underdog. It's a show full of characters you want to root for not just because they're likable, but because they always seem to come back to a place of fighting for every victory.

The big question mark there, of course, is how that kind of energy could translate to the big screen. In the works for several years now, "The Bob's Burgers Movie" has always been eagerly anticipated by fans of the show, but going into the film it wasn't clear exactly what kind of film adaptation we'd get, particularly when 20th Century Animation debuted the updated visual style crafted for the movie version of the Belcher family. Things had clearly been scaled up, but would the spirit of "Bob's Burgers" be able to survive that wider scope?

It not only survives, but thrives. "The Bob's Burgers Movie" is a film that walks an astonishing line between extended episode of the TV series and story that actually feels like a movie, giving us all the intimacy and scrappy energy we've come to expect from the show while sacrificing nothing in the way of big-screen ambition. For longtime fans of the series, it's the animated movie we've been waiting for.

Bob's last burger?

When we catch back up with Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), Linda (John Roberts), and their kids Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal), the Belcher family is once again on the brink of financial ruin. With their small business loan past due and just days left to pay it off, Bob's hoping that wowing customers with the right new burger will buy them some time. But of course, luck's not on their side. Just as they're hoping to drum up more business, a sinkhole opens right in front of the restaurant, leaving them essentially closed despite valiant efforts to get people to come in the back door. But it's not just a sinkhole. It's also the doorway to a new mystery that will throw the Belcher kids into a series of events that challenges each of them in turn as they try to solve the case by digging into the depths of the Wonder Wharf and, by extension, save the restaurant.

This setup, written by show creator Loren Bouchard and Noah Smith, functions much like the bigger stories contained in two-parter episodes of the show itself, in that it's scaffolding onto which the filmmakers can hang many, many gags and a sense of an individual arc for each major character. We pick up on the Belchers at the dawn of summer, a time of possibility and anxiety over said possibility, and so we see Bob and Linda wrestling with how to keep their family afloat, Tina grappling with how to express romantic feelings, Gene struggling with his musical ambitions, and Louise showing some rare insecurity as she starts to question if her trademark ears might be more of a crutch than she's willing to admit.

Some of these storylines end up stronger than others, particularly in the third act when everything starts to coalesce into a series of set pieces, but there's really not a weak link here. The film comes at its storytelling with the same self-assured, joke-a-second joy as its TV parent, and that's made all the more clear when you take into account the scope of the story.

Belchers against the world

Though "Bob's Burgers" tends to retain a rather tight focus on the Belcher family, there's always been the world of the surrounding town to function as playground, obstacle, and locale for various levels of self-exploration. The town, and its various features from the Wonder Wharf to the mansion of Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline), is the most natural candidate for scaling up in adapting the show to film, and it ends up working marvelously. Everything from the animation style to the musical numbers to the scope of the various set pieces introduced throughout the film all leans toward a grander vision for the Belchers and their home, and yet the writing — and the work of the always incredible voice cast — never makes the movie feel bigger than it should be. It never feels like this is a film trying to make up for things lacking in the show, or compensating for a certain lack of intimacy by making things bigger. There's still that classic comedic intimacy running through "The Bob's Burgers Movie," and the underlying scope works to reinforce it. It feels like the Belchers aren't just trying to save the restaurant, but trying to save each other from a monumental obstacle.

In that way, "The Bob's Burgers Movie" functions as a beautifully realized complement to the original series, but it's not without its lures for new fans. You will, if you're initiated to the show and its charms, still get all the internal information you need from each character. You'll still get plenty of laughs that you can grasp even without the running gags of the series. And most importantly, you'll get the heart, which never feels obscured by the ambitions of the film. In that respect, "The Bob's Burgers Movie" feels like a truly natural extension of the show, and makes us remember why we loved the Belcher family so much in the first place.

"The Bob's Burgers Movie" is in theaters May 27.