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Why 'The Bob's Burgers Movie' is like a good episode of the TV series. But not a great one

Bill Goodykoontz
Arizona Republic

Let’s get this out of the way up front: I love “Bob’s Burgers,” the animated Fox television show about a restaurant owner (Bob) and his offbeat family trying to stay sane while keeping their burger restaurant afloat, with lovably mixed results.

It’s smart and it’s funny and, like “The Simpsons” in its best seasons, it captures what it is like to be a parent with hyperbolic perfection. (I am on record proclaiming Bob the best dad on TV, which is saying something, given my love for Homer Simpson.)

So it would be silly to pretend that I would not be predisposed to like “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.” It would also be untrue to say that the mere notion of a big-screen project of a TV show that means so much to me didn’t make me nervous.

Whew.

H. Jon Benjamin and John Roberts star as Bob and Linda Belcher

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” is good. At times it’s really good, with a lot of the charm and humor that makes the show so great. At times it’s not as good – as it is basically a super-sized episode of the show, sometimes it seems like it.

But the good far outweighs the bad. It’s not as good as a great episode of “Bob,” but what is?

The film starts with a murder (!) that took place six years ago. In the present, Bob (voice of H. Jon Benjamin) and Linda (John Roberts) Belcher are struggling to make their loan payment — they’re always struggling to make some kind of payment — and the bank is threatening to close them down.

Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) and Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts) try to save their burger shop in "The Bob's Burgers Movie."

They hit upon the unique idea of trying to sell more burgers. Who’d have thought? (Bob: good cook, terrible businessman.) But that scenario seems unlikely when a huge sinkhole opens up in front of the restaurant and they have to close.

It doesn’t help when Louise (Kristen Schaal), Bob and Linda's daughter, discovers a skeleton in the sinkhole — the murder victim from six years ago. An arrest is made (no spoilers here), but the police department, while it has some clues, is basically clueless in the big scheme of things.

So Louise, along with siblings Tina (Dan Mintz) and Gene (Eugene Mirman), decide they will solve the case. If nothing else, it’s a chance to skip school, which Louise is eager to do, since playground bullies called her a baby (the b-word in her world) because of her ubiquitous pink bunny hat.

Meanwhile Bob and Linda, along with ride-or-die customer Teddy (Larry Murphy), try to figure out how to sell burgers from a closed restaurant they are desperately trying to keep open.

That’s pretty much it in terms of plot. Not bad on that front, as cartoon murder mysteries go (somewhere between “Scooby Doo” and “Archer,” which Benjamin also voices). But what the plot really does is give the film co-directors Loren Bouchard (who created the show) and Bernard Derriman an excuse to parade favorite characters before us. And we see a lot of them.

Mr. Fischoeder, Sgt. Bosco and Zeke are among the characters showing up

Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts), Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz), and Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) in "The Bob's Burgers Movie."

This includes, but is not limited to, Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline), the hilariously morally suspect landlord; Mr. Fischoeder’s brother Calvin (Zach Galifianakis); and Sgt. Bosco (Gary Cole). I won’t reveal everyone who is included and who’s left out — there cannot be enough Zeke for me — but a lot of the usual suspects show up, one notable one does not and the way one in particular is handled requires a little working knowledge of recent history.

The film doesn't necessarily require a working knowledge of “Bob’s Burgers,” but it wouldn’t hurt to have seen it enough to have an idea of who’s who going in.

After a great start, and a first-rate musical number (a staple of the show), the film drags in the middle, including an excruciatingly long set piece that includes a much inferior song that traps the characters in the same place for far too long. This bunch needs to be out and about, running into ridiculous situations and approaching them with its usual absurdity.

The show, after all, has a distinct personality and sensibility. For instance, something happens before the film even starts, a small thing, that perfectly sets the tone and the mood. If you know, you know, and you’ll be smiling before the first frame hits the screen.

If you don’t know, you can still enjoy “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” although it will be more as an initiation into one of the best TV shows of the 21st century. Nothing wrong with that.

'The Bob's Burgers Movie' 4 stars

Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★

Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★

Directors: Loren Bouchard, Bernard Derriman.

Cast: H. Jon Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, Dan Mintz.

Rating: Rated PG-13 for rude/suggestive material and language.

Note: In theaters May 27.

Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@arizonarepublic.com. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk. Subscribe to the weekly movies newsletter.

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