SAUSAGE PARTY – Christopher Lennertz and Alan Menken
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
There hasn’t been a mainstream R-rated animated film in many years – at least since the South Park boys released Team America: World Police in 2004 – which, considering the success and popularity of shows like Archer and Bojack Horseman on television, seems to be something of an anomaly. Thankfully, that balance may be redressed with the success of Sausage Party, the brainchild of screenwriters Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jonah Hill, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir, and directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. The film follows the adventures of a sausage named Frank who lives in Shopwell’s supermarket. He is in love with Brenda, a hot dog bun, and together they dream of being taken to ‘the great beyond’ when they are bought by one of the supermarket’s patrons. Unfortunately, an unexpected incident leaves Frank and Brenda stranded on the wrong side of the supermarket, and they must team up with a Jewish bagel, a Muslim lavash, and a sexy taco named Teresa, in order to get home. Meanwhile, Frank’s friends Barry and Carl have been successfully taken to ‘the great beyond’, but quickly realize that all their preconceptions about supermarket heaven have been terribly, terribly wrong.
Once you look past its profane screenplay and seemingly ridiculous concept, Sausage Party is actually a surprisingly thought-provoking allegory about religion. The movie’s various racial and religious stereotypes – notably the worrying Jewish bagel and the aggressive Islamic flatbread who hate each other – as well as the allusions to concepts of heaven, premarital sex and promiscuity, homosexuality, and blind adherence to doctrine and dogma without critical thought, are all tackled head-on and used as conduits to convey timely and pertinent criticisms of organized religion. Unfortunately, much of the movie’s depth will be lost in the sea of jokes about dicks, douches, and weed, and will be overshadowed by several of the movie’s more outrageous scenes. Personally, however, I thought the film was both hilarious and intellectually stimulating.
For the score, the filmmakers turned to a legend in the world of animation, and one of the most exciting young composers working in Hollywood today. The score is built around the melody of an original song, “The Great Beyond,” written by the great Alan Menken and his lyricist Glenn Slater, with additional lyrics by Rogen, Goldberg, Hunter, and Shaffir. In context, the song is a major part of the film’s storyline, acting as the musical catalyst for each new day at the supermarket; it is sung by the groceries as a hymn to their gods, each of them hoping that today will be the day they are chosen to make the journey into the beautiful afterlife. Stylistically, it has the same feel as other classic Menken opening songs, like “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast, or “The Bells of Notre Dame” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with a memorable central melodic idea, but with much more salty lyrics and a healthy dose of religious satire. Singing Nazi sauerkrauts exterminating juice, anyone?
The melody of the song permeates much of Christopher Lennertz’s score, anchoring it as the main musical cornerstone of the entire project. In cues like “Chosen,” for example, it is light and pretty, with sparkling pianos and sentimental string and woodwind lines. Later, in the first half of “Food Massacre,” it appears as if inspired by Randy Edelman, with light prancing strings, excited pizzicato elements, and flighty woodwinds, building to majestic heights augmented by choir. Cleverly, Lennertz also deconstructs the melody and uses it in less obvious ways, sometimes using just two notes (“dear gods”) to pepper the action cues with a thematic nugget, or changing the orchestration to an interesting instrumental variation, like the muted trumpets at the end of “Magical Sausage,” the warm oboe in “We’re Home,” or the lovely arpeggiated piano version in “Big Speech,” which almost acts as a love theme for Frank and Brenda.
Once Menken’s melody is removed from the picture, Lennertz gets to have his way on his own, and he lets rip with his full orchestra at every possible opportunity. Yet again, Lennertz proves that the way to score comedies is to ignore the comedy entirely and score the drama, which in so doing makes the comedy funnier by the law of juxtaposition. Lennertz’s main contributions in this capacity are two additional themes, and several moments of blazing action and outright horror, and they are all superb. Lennertz has always shown a special talent for classic action music, as his scores for video games like Warhawk attest, and Sausage Party continues that level of excellence.
The two secondary themes represent the characters of The Douche and Teresa Taco. The Douche – who is, literally, a talking sanitary product desperately in search of a body cavity to insert himself into, as well as being an actual douche in the pejorative sense of the word – gradually emerges as the film’s primary antagonist, and he has a recurring motif that announces his dangerous, murderous, cannibalistic presence. His theme first appears in “Douche Loses It,” initially as an emotional cello solo with slightly creepy choral accents, before it gradually alters into a threatening, aggressive brass theme. Lennertz disguises the Douche theme with Spanish trumpets, guitars, and spaghetti western overtones in “He’s Coming,” a clever touch to acknowledge the appearance of the terrifying ‘El Ducha’ in a Mexican cantina. This cue also introduces the theme for Teresa Taco, a sultry Latina who clearly has the hots for Brenda’s buns. Teresa’s soft, florid, enticing Spanish guitars reappear during “The Spooge” and “I Have Proof,” and are quite lovely.
However, it is the moments of action and horror which impress the most. Lennertz’s horror music is wonderful, ranging from the sinister chords and tremulous brass fanfares of the opening cue, “Darren, The Dark Lord,” to the terrible, haunting crescendos in the aftermath of “The Crash,” and the horrific revelations of “The Cookbook,” where a chaotically deconstructed version of the Great Beyond theme and explosions of dissonance mark Frank’s nightmarish realization of his existence and purpose in life. The best is saved for the second half of “Food Massacre,” during which Lennertz goes all out and full-on with his Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann homages. The screeching strings from Psycho come up against the overwhelming dark brass and enormous Latin choir from The Omen, in a no-holds-barred orgy of death and destruction. They’re eating children!!
The action music is all equally superb; it’s classic orchestral action writing of the highest order – the sort of stuff people like Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Alan Silvestri and Basil Poledouris were writing throughout the 1980s and 90s, with full and rich orchestrations, exciting rhythmic ideas, and thematic consistency flowing through it. Cues like “Douche Loses It,” “The Spooge,” and “Magical Sausage” all have action moments, but it is the score’s finale where it really shines. From the middle of “I Have Proof” all the way through to the end of “Final Battle” Lennertz just doesn’t let up.
Throughout the entirety of these cues Lennertz brings out his full bag of exciting action licks, militaristic snare drums, pulsating brass rhythms, and powerful string writing. There are numerous heroic performances of the Great Beyond theme, and several sequences where both the Great Beyond theme and the Douche theme play contrapuntally, notably a sequence during “The Big Fight” where they jump back and forth off each other in the brass. In addition, there’s an especially wonderful rhythmic section beginning at 1:10 in “The Big Fight” that brings back memories of Basil Poledouris at his best, and is clearly a tribute from Lennertz to his former mentor.
Amusingly, Lennertz also is given free rein to reference several classic scores of the past throughout his work, ranging from Lawrence of Arabia in “Our Heroes,” to Henry Mancini jazz in “Magical Sausage,” West Side Story in “The Big Fight,” The Magnificent Seven in “Final Battle,” and David Arnold’s Stargate in the “Finale”. There’s also a wonderful burst of Brad Fiedel’s Terminator theme at one point, which is absolutely hilarious in the film, but sadly doesn’t appear on the album.
I can certainly see how some listeners may find these cues a little too chaotic, and it’s true that they do occasionally veer off into Mickey Mouse territory when Lennertz starts throwing bagpipes, Mexican mariachi music, and modern rock guitars at the score to showcase brief scenes where different ethnic foods join the fray. Personally, however, I can’t help but be impressed at the sheer bravado and orchestral panache Lennertz shows in these cues. Majestic orchestral writing of this magnitude gets fairly short shrift these days, and it needs to be lauded whenever it appears.
Madison Gate Records’s generous album also includes several of the pop and rock songs that feature in the film, all of which are perfectly chosen for maximum comedic effect, and most of which I love. Believe me, it doesn’t get much better than seeing an actual slab of meatloaf singing “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” and once you’ve experienced the scene in which Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes” is heard, you’ll never be able to un-see what you have seen, and you may well be scarred for life.
I can certainly see how the actual movie Sausage Party would be well outside the taste barriers of many people; it’s a non-stop onslaught of sex jokes, drug jokes, strong religious satire, and scandalous (and occasionally disgusting) imagery, overwhelmed with f-bombs and other assorted profanity. However, to overlook Christopher Lennertz and Alan Menken’s contributions would be a terrible disservice; Menken’s memorable main recurring theme, the intelligent application of that theme in the body of the score, the co-operation between the main theme and the secondary themes, Lennertz’s pulsating and dramatic orchestral action music, and the clever and appropriate pastiches and homages, are all worth acknowledging and celebrating.
Oh, and one more thing: the lyrics of “Food Massacre” – subtitled “Requiem for a Sausage” – read ‘calidus canis, miseria infernum, holus frux, fluvius sanguis, caedis cibus, obitus panis, ignis aeternum,’ which (thanks to Google) roughly translate as ‘hot dog in the misery of hell, fruits and vegetables stream with blood, a slaughter of food, bread dies in eternal fire’. Brilliant!
Buy the Sausage Party soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- The Great Beyond (written by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir, performed by Sausage Party Cast) (3:13)
- Darren, The Dark Lord (0:55)
- Chosen (1:50)
- I’d Do Anything for Love [But I Won’t Do That] (written by Jim Steinman, performed by Meat Loaf) (5:14)
- The Crash (2:34)
- Douche Loses It (2:16)
- Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (written by George Michael, performed by Wham!) (3:50)
- Our Heroes (2:31)
- He’s Coming (1:47)
- Food Massacre (3:15)
- Hungry Eyes (written by John DeNicola and Franke Previte, performed by Eric Carmen) (3:47)
- True (written by Gary Kemp, performed by Spandau Ballet) (5:31)
- The Spooge (3:46)
- Magical Sausage (1:40)
- Gone (written by Joshua Epstein, Mike Higgins, Dan Nigro, and Daniel Zott, performed by JR JR) (3:46)
- We’re Home (3:29)
- The Cookbook (1:26)
- I Have Proof (3:06)
- Big Speech (3:04)
- The Big Fight (2:37)
- Final Battle (4:04)
- It’s Your Thing (written by O’Kelly Isley, Ronald Isley and Rudolph Isley, performed by The Isley Brothers) (2:47)
- Finale (2:24)
- Joy to the World (written by Hoyt Axton, performed by Three Dog Night) (3:14)
- The Great Beyond Around the World (written by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater with Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir, performed by Sausage Party Cast) (2:44)
Running Time: 75 minutes 24 seconds
Madison Gate Records (2016)
Music composed by Christopher Lennertz and Alan Menken. Conducted by Christopher Lennertz. Orchestrations by Andrew Kinney, Kevin Kliesch, Michael J. Lloyd, Patrick Russ, Marcus Sjowall and Gernot Wolfgang. Recorded and mixed by Frank Wolf. Edited by Chris Brooks and Daryl B. Kell. Album produced by Christopher Lennertz, Alan Menken, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.