My family has been a fan of the Bob’s Burgers show for a few years, but you don’t have to be a fan (or even caught up) to enjoy their big screen debut. Granted, stories about a small restaurant run by an eccentric family with weird humor may not be everyone’s cup of… meat. But if your loved ones’ eccentricities drive you crazy occasionally, The Bob’s Burgers Movie offers some fun takeaways that can instill hope. Sound like a tall order? Well, do you want fries with that?
Food for Thought
Bob Belcher is a perpetually glum, middle-aged father pursuing his dream of owning a small restaurant. His eternally optimistic wife, Linda, runs the diner and unconditionally smothers, er, loves their kids. Thirteen-year-old Tina is awkward and shy, which makes it difficult to talk to the boys she’s obsessed with. Middle child Gene believes he’s a musician, and the youngest daughter, nine-year-old Louise, is self-assured, sarcastic, and smart. Their lives revolve around the restaurant, but more importantly, their family.
At four times an episode’s runtime, I was concerned that the movie might lose focus on the family or wouldn’t be a meaningful enough addition to Bob’s world. Conversely, the film could have tried to matter too much and end up making detrimental and unnecessary changes. But creator Loren Bouchard and writer Nora Smith formed a storyline that could only be told in a feature format. That’s what audiences want, not feeling like the creative team ran out of propane because they only know how to make twenty-two minute arcs. But the film held to the rule of a good adaptation: not straying from the original material’s intent (which I explain here).
No Restaurant for the Weary
The Bob’s Burgers Movie finds the Belcher family restaurant threatened by an overdue loan, and all three kids have problems of their own. In characteristic Bob’s style, all five sing a song (super catchy “Sunny Side Up Summer”!), describing their concerns and what shreds of hopefulness they can muster to fix those problems.
The Belchers have always been underdogs with their family-owned restaurant. As if the bank issue wasn’t enough, a sinkhole appears, blocking customer access to the diner. As is often the case when we’re hit with multiple problems, Bob loses hope. This dynamic illustrates our culture: Americans love a good underdog, but we don’t always love spending the money to keep them in business. This, coupled with outrageous retail rental hikes, causes small businesses to die, and we lose hope when mom-and-pop shops are eaten up by corporate chains.
Bob’s bleak situation is contrasted with the kids being “kid-like enough that their parents’ financial woes only faintly register.” Tina is working up the courage to finally ask Jimmy Junior out, Gene wants to perform at the nearby amusement park called Wonder Wharf, and Louise wrestles with self-doubt and whether or not she’s brave. Louise’s quest to answer her existential insecurities is given center stage, providing gravitas to her character and the story.
Closed for Private Party
In order to prove she’s a (very young) independent woman, Louise decides to solve a police investigation related to the sinkhole. Dragging her siblings along, they wind up where the Wonder Wharf workers live—Carneyopolis. The residents are unsavory, so it’s fortunate they run into their friend Mickey. But the parolee carneys vindicate themselves through a wonderfully weird song-and-dance number. This rich menu of odd friends and situations can only come from a show with this kind of longevity.
Likewise, it’s been a long time coming, but our culture has recently started giving itself permission to celebrate weird families and family members not of blood but of choice—and this is good. But sometimes it seems people don’t want to admit that not only is their family weird, but they are too. We can aggrandize the idea of “family,” but often the enterprise of interacting with our peculiar loved ones can be stressful and frustrating. So even if Bob’s humor isn’t particularly to our liking, being open-minded in understanding our peculiarities and the stress and beauty of family may be good for us.
The movie’s Memorial Day release was no accident—the film celebrates summer. And if you’re reading this article close to publication, you may be enjoying extended family on vacation or at a BBQ (inevitably with burgers). But the show’s holiday staple is Thanksgiving (certainly for Bob), a time where many are forced to interact with blood relatives or sometimes even “chosen family” they hate (I mean, “hate” is a strong word… maybe love-hate).
Bob’s most loyal customer, Teddy, is constantly trying to get Bob to admit that they’re best friends. Although Bob’s personality tends to keep people at a distance, he’s blind to the fact that Teddy is trustworthy and dependable (he even builds a food cart so the Belchers can earn some income).1
Sometimes we’re like Bob, and we don’t have the time or patience to get close to people. Sometimes we’re frustrated when loved ones are honest about areas we can improve, stubbornly ignoring the adage, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). Others can act like Linda and try to be friends with everyone, but need to work on setting boundaries and practicing discernment. Either way, we must let people into our lives (easier said than done… but needing to be said nonetheless).
Support Structure: Nothing Cheese(burger)y About It
After Teddy’s food cart fails, the parents continue trying to find ways to save the restaurant while the kids continue on their adventure/investigation. Some might think kids running around like The Goonies and getting into unsupervised hijinks teaches irresponsible parenting, but I think the opposite is true.
On NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, podcast host Glen Weldon says that Bob loves the kids as individuals, whereas Linda has an effusive, blanket love for all the children (especially in the movie). Weldon deduces that “because they’re getting two different kinds [of support], this is a fundamentally much healthier family than The Simpsons ever hopes to be.” Podcast producer Candice Lim expounds, saying Bob’s Burgers is the healthiest family on network TV because they never make fun of each other and are “tolerant and supportive.”
I agree, but I believe that not ridiculing family for who they are is only one facet; another is having the freedom to voice their support. In the film, ringleader Louise doesn’t want to tell their parents about their investigation because she knows they’ll say it’s too dangerous. When Bob and Linda finally catch up with the kids, they do admonish them, but they also protect them.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie shows us that being a supportive family doesn’t mean only saying “yes.” Supporting someone means we can disagree and even tell them “no.” We should be tolerant and loving regardless of how they respond to our (hopefully) wise objection, but we have the freedom to object nonetheless. And like the Belchers, that doesn’t mean idiosyncrasies and mistakes aren’t met with sarcastic remarks, just that who the person is—the things they can’t and don’t want to change about themselves—isn’t targeted or mocked.
Somehow the Belchers are both a representation of actual families—as real as an unvarnished food display—and the ideal we should aspire to. The parents must straddle the crack in the sidewalk: providing children adventure and safety (as I mentioned here) which could lead to unsupervised hijinks, while also setting up boundaries to build mostly law-abiding, productive little weirdos of society. It’s because the Belchers have set boundaries and simultaneously followed their small business dreams that the kids attempt to be their best and learn their limitations.
Family Togetherness: The Sanctity of the American Hamburger
The film’s climax forces the five Belchers together into an impossible situation. Optimistic Linda loses hope, Louise is convinced she’s not brave or independent, and Bob struggles to protect his family—but then truth shines through and offers a ray of hope.
Louise laments how her inseparable hat is just another sign of what a baby she is. And when she tells her version of the hat’s origin story, her parents simultaneously correct and empower her. The audience finally gets the hat’s backstory as well as a beautiful account of their family’s heritage. This validating realization ends Louise’s identity doubts (as truth often does).
And because Bob has spoken the truth, has been reminded of his family’s legacy, has given Louise hope, and has a pinch of desperation, he devises an ingenious plan to save his family. Once he has hope, Linda bounces back as Bob’s biggest cheerleader, and they get out of the jam. When family, whether blood or chosen, come together in truth, hope is often not far behind.
So does Tina finally work up the courage to ask out Jimmy Junior? Does Gene rock the Wharf? Does Louise solve the case and regain her confidence and independence? You’ll just have to watch the movie—but in true Bob’s Burgers fashion, it will surprise you. Just remember, the best movies—and burgers—are shared with friends and family!
1. Teddy labeled the cart “Bob Burgers,” which homages the episode “O.T.: The Outside Toilet” where he thinks Bob’s last name is “Burgers”!