Opening in theaters May 27, the film, based on the long-running Fox animated series, is everything creator Loren Bouchard hoped it would be, despite early fears it could easily destroy the franchise.
You know that feeling when a ruptured water main opens a giant sinkhole right in front of your establishment and your ambitious plans for the summer disappear into the abyss, along with a dozen cubic yards of dirt and asphalt? Hopefully not, but that’s the situation faced by the long-suffering, yet ever-resilient, proprietors of the eponymous restaurant in The Bob’s Burgers Movie, opening in theaters on May 27.
Based on the long-running Emmy-winning television series created by Loren Bouchard and Jim Dauterive, The Bob’s Burgers Movie stars H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, Larry Murphy, John Roberts, Kristen Schaal, with Zach Galifianakis and Kevin Kline, all reprising their series roles in the animated musical comedy-mystery-adventure film. Directed by Bouchard and longtime Bob’s Burgers supervising director Bernard Derriman, with a screenplay by Bouchard and series co-showrunner Nora Smith, The Bob’s Burgers Movie proudly continues the series’ winning trifecta of quirky characters, unapologetically silly songs, and offbeat storylines.
For those unfamiliar, Bob’s Burgers is set in an unnamed beach town and follows the members of the Belcher family – worrywart dad Bob, upbeat wife Linda, boy-crazy Tina, affable Gene, and precocious Louise – as they persevere through struggles ranging from the mundane to the absurd. Needless to say, the unexpected appearance of a sinkhole provides numerous opportunities for perseverance, as Bob and Linda are forced to find unconventional ways to sell enough burgers to pay the bills, and the children try to solve a mystery that could save the family’s restaurant.
The idea of making a Bob’s Burgers movie was first proposed to Bouchard in the summer of 2017, when the series’ cast and crew were in the midst of rehearsals for a pair of special live shows set to take place at Los Angeles’ historic Orpheum Theater. While he was flattered to be asked, and excited by the idea, it wasn’t necessarily an easy decision to make.
“Even before they asked us, it was something we had thought about,” Bouchard recalls. “And we were always hesitant and nervous about it, because two problems can happen. One, you make a bad movie; two, you ruin your TV show. And we didn't want to do either of those things, especially the latter. But when they asked us, we’d gotten a little more confident, we had a little bit of wind at our back, and we knew we were ready. Not to say that we knew how to do it, but we thought maybe we could make this thing big enough and bold enough and us enough, and not ruin the show at the same time.”
“We had two goals in mind,” adds co-writer Smith, before – like Michael Palin, in Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch – quickly correcting herself. “Well, not make a bad movie, so three goals. Not ruin the show, so four goals. But we wanted fans to love it and feel like we checked all these fun boxes for them, and we also wanted new people to be able to enjoy it. So it was like juggling those two and keeping those both in mind. But that’s also sort of how we approach the episodes, where we like to think you don't have to see any other episode to enjoy the story we're telling and the characters interacting with each other. But we were still nervous.”
While the creators’ concern about making their fan base happy is understandable, Bouchard points out that, even within the series, change is inevitable, and the challenges involved in moving to the big screen aren’t entirely different from what they’ve already been dealing with.
“With a show that survives this long, you have to accept that you’re changing, while still making the same show that you always were,” he reflects. “The show evolves, and it changes organically, but it's not because we wanted to change the show. It's just because we've been on the air for 12 seasons, and I aged, my kids got older, and some of us had kids who didn't have kids when we started, and that's just going to be in there. If we're the same people working on the show from day one until now, with the movie, there's going to be some organic growth.”
One aspect of the movie about which there was no uncertainty or trepidation was the animation style.
“Our characters were only ever designed to be very flat 2D characters,” says co-director Derriman. “So we had absolutely no intention of introducing any 3D. Even in the show, if, for example, we have a car turning, we'll only provide a few major keys in 3D and let in-betweeners work out the rest, so it looks like it's hand-drawn, without that smoothness of 3D.”
Which is not to say that they’re Luddites, or in any way unappreciative of the great benefits that technology has provided.
“We love digital tools,” Bouchard emphasizes. “We love SketchUp, we love Maya, and we love anything that can help us make our 2D animated movie. But we're also trying to have the finished product not feel digital. We want that feeling of a line and some flat color. And so we try to hide the gradients, we try to hide our tracks if we're using some tools behind the scenes to accomplish our tracking shots or our cars driving down the street or whatever.”
“And in the end, it's just because we love 2D movies,” he continues. “We really hope that audiences will sit in a theater – in that space where these used to play – and enjoy them again. And if we're wrong, we'll just scuttle back to TV and make our show. But we're hoping, not just for Bob's, but for us as audience members, that there are more 2D movies released into theaters, just so we can see them.”
As any fan of the series knows, one of the hallmarks of Bob’s Burger’s is the funny/raunchy/poignant/scatological/raunchy songs that have been featured in the show from the very beginning. Thus, it will come as no surprise that the movie includes a full serving of musical numbers. Asked about the process whereby the musical sequences are created, Bouchard says that, in most cases, the song comes first and sets the tone for whatever they’re doing.
“Occasionally we'll have a visual idea, and we'll try to bring some material to it,” he shares. “But for us, the organic starting place is for everyone to be hearing the same thing before we start boarding. What really was exciting on the movie was thinking about the choreography for the dancing. Also, the choreography of the camera was thrilling. We sent each other a lot of music videos and bits of musicals, and just stuff off social media of people dancing.”
Bouchard is quick to give props to Smith and Derriman, who he says are “really a powerhouse.”
“Nora is a very gifted, silly dancer,” he elaborates. “She would film herself, and then Bernard is extraordinarily gifted at getting it onto the screen and matching it to the character. You believe that character would dance that way. And he also could stage these bigger numbers, where you have whole groups of people moving, and then maybe the camera's moving too – just having this big playground was one of the great pleasures of working on the movie.”
For his part, Derriman, while seconding Bouchard’s sentiments, also recalls an early period when he experienced more than a little anxiety about the musical numbers.
“We had some empty spaces in our movie in the early days,” he recounts. “We knew we had a song, we knew where it was going to start and end, but these guys hadn't written them yet. So for those early animatics, there would be cards saying, ‘song here,’ ‘song here,’ ‘song here.’ And sometimes I got a little nervous about having the time to do the animation.
“And then, all of a sudden, Nora sent this audio, a very simple track of the family singing that opening song. And it was just a song you love straight away. And I remember the relief. I was just like, ‘Oh, thank God. This is going to be great.’ And the beauty of it, from a boarding perspective, is that I loved these songs so much that they kind of boarded themselves. Over a weekend, I'd have the whole thing boarded. The song sequences really didn't change much from the very early thumbs.”
Adds Bouchard, “I cried when I saw the board for the first song. I pretended I had something in my eye, but it was full-blown tears of relief. Bernard said this was going to work, it was going to be okay. And I was just so happy when I saw those first boards.”