‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie’ Review: For Non-Fans, This Comedy’s More Tasty Snack Than Meal

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This review of “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” was first published May 23, 2022.

As a non-viewer of the long-running Fox animated comedy “Bob’s Burgers,” I couldn’t immediately quantify why I found “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” to be funny and charming while I was watching it, only to have it mostly whisp away from memory within a few days. (For a perspective from a “Bob’s Burgers” watcher, please check out our review by Karama Horne.)

It wasn’t until I watched another TV-based feature film currently in theaters, “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” that I was reminded of the difference between fans and newbies for movies like these. The “Downton” sequel rewards devotees who remember the episode when they opened the Abbey for tourists, or the Dowager Countess’ near-fling with a Russian prince, and “Bob’s Burgers” no doubt does likewise for the fans who have tuned in for 12 seasons.

In this movie version, it’s a hectic week for the Belcher family, as the kids — Tina (voiced by Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) — are getting ready for summer vacation, while Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and his ever-supportive wife Linda (John Roberts) are staring down the barrel of a banknote that’s due in one week. Their dreams of raising the cash by drumming up lots of business are dashed when a massive sinkhole opens up in front of the restaurant.

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The Belchers’ somewhat daffy landlord Calvin Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) makes a half-hearted promise about waiving that month’s rent (which would allow Bob to pay the bank), but the burger chef isn’t assured that the wealthy Fischoeders (who also include Zach Galifianakis as Calvin’s brother Felix and David Wain as nephew Courtney) will come through, so he makes a plan to sell unlicensed burgers at the nearby Wonder Wharf.

Louise climbs into the sinkhole to convince some mean classmates that she’s no baby, even if she constantly wears bunny ears, and finds a skeleton, leading to Calvin Fischoeder being arrested for murder. To save the restaurant, the Belcher kids set out to clear Calvin’s name, and along the way, they stumble upon a vast conspiracy that could affect all their lives and even the Wonder Wharf itself.

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Show creator Loren Bouchard (who co-directed the film with Bernard Derriman and co-wrote it with Nora Smith) is caught in something of a Catch-22 here: keeping this cinematic adaptation firmly in the Belchers’ world would appeal to those people already on board without necessarily welcoming in new viewers, while sending the family to a burger-making contest in Paris or on a trip to the Grand Canyon might have mainstream appeal but turn off the true believers.

He’s chosen to stay in the neighborhood, which makes “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” feel more like a TV show writ large than a cinematic experience. Not that films always have to cover a broad expanse — “Luca,” for example, limits most of its action to a small Italian village and the adjoining sea — but anyone who doesn’t walk in knowing the “Bob’s Burgers” characters and their milieu will inevitably be forced to play catch-up. (No pun intended.)

To the screenplay’s credit, the story never feels terribly stretched out, and even as the stakes and the reveals and the ticking clocks start piling up, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” remains focused on the Belcher family, particularly in an affecting all-is-lost moment that moved even me, who was just getting to know these characters. It’s a tricky balance to build a world where characters are both absurd and believable — and on top of that, exist in a world where musical numbers can break out at any time (even the Wonder Wharf carnies get a song) — but Bouchard pulls it off.

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A challenge for films like this (it comes up with “Downton,” too) is trying to give every member of an ever-growing ensemble enough to do to keep fans satisfied. Eugene and, surprisingly, Bob himself get relegated to bystander status; the former isn’t given as much plot as his sisters, while the latter spends much of the movie in a funk, with Linda prodding him and cheering him along as he attempts to keep his business afloat. And even with the characters who do get focus, there are unexplained moments that only fans will understand. (What was the deal with Felix’s ex-girlfriend? Or with Tina’s erotic fixation on zombies?)

In any event, with more than a decade’s experience, the voice cast feels very comfortable with the characters, and the comic timing is generally impeccable. (I had no idea Kevin Kline had been a cast member all this time, and his line readings are like a symphony of entitled befuddlement.)

Did I laugh? For the most part, yes. Do I now feel compelled to go back and watch the 237 episodes that dropped before “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” came out? Probably not, but I appreciate the show’s followers getting the same big-screen fix that the “Downton Abbey” fanbase enjoys.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” opens Friday in U.S. theaters.