How did Pixar’s beloved “Toy Story” children’s movies lead to the foul-mouthed, sexually explicit comedy “Sausage Party,” from the screenwriting team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg?
“We’re both crazy about ‘Toy Story,’ and we talked about it all the time as the only comedic trilogy that gets better with each movie,” Mr. Goldberg said in a phone interview. Mr. Rogen added: “We became obsessed with these Pixar movies. Their quality, tone and style were so much fun that we thought we should try to make one of those.”
Their animated tale, however, is decidedly R-rated, much like their comedic take on the apocalypse (“This Is the End”) or high school (“Superbad”). “Sausage Party” (in theaters Aug. 12), which they wrote with Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, is the story of a supermarket hot dog who leads other products on a quest to understand the true nature of their fate when they leave the store — they will be sliced, diced and devoured by humans. Mr. Rogen voices Frank, the hot dog, and Kristen Wiig plays his love interest, Brenda, a bun. Much double (and sometimes single) entendre humor ensues.
Animated movies for adults have a long history, including the first X-rated one, “Fritz the Cat” (1972); the sci-fi fantasy anthology “Heavy Metal” (1981); and last year’s existential “Anomalisa.” But they don’t come around often, and big-budget, computer-animated films of the DreamWorks Animation and Pixar ilk have yet to venture into R-rated territory. For this reason, Mr. Rogen and Mr. Goldberg were intent on “Sausage Party” having the professional quality and detailed sheen of the best computer animation.
“We kept saying, in order for this to work, it really has to look as good as people are expecting,” Mr. Rogen said, “or else it’s just a bunch of dirty jokes.”
And that is the film’s grandest joke: It looks just like the computer-animated films parents take their children to, but it is definitely not for children. The film’s distributor, Columbia Pictures, has been extra cautious with the marketing, stamping a large, bold “Rated R” on billboard ads and movie posters so there’s no confusion. Although in at least one instance, a “Sausage Party” trailer was mistakenly played before a screening of “Finding Dory” in California.
“A lot of kids grew up fast that day,” Mr. Rogen said.
The audience at South by Southwest was a more appropriate fit. A work-in-progress version played at that Austin, Tex., festival in March to an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response, with audiences cheering the irreverent jokes and food-on-food sex.
Mr. Rogen voiced the blob B.O.B. in the 2009 film “Monsters vs. Aliens,” which was directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon. Mr. Rogen approached Mr. Vernon with the idea for “Sausage Party,” initially pitched as a film in which hot dogs escape their packaging to have sex with buns. Mr. Vernon was immediately interested.
“When he started pitching it, I thought, oh my God, this is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 13 years old,” Mr. Vernon said in a phone interview.
He mentioned that contemporary animators frequently crave the opportunity to make movies about more mature subject matter but are rarely given the chance.
“People who make these movies are adults with adult senses of humor,” he said. “We have a lot of funny stuff in our heads that we want to do, and probably 75 percent of it can’t go into a children’s movie. So over the long term, if the only place you get to work as an adult is in a child’s world, you’ve got a lot of screwed-up thoughts in your head that you want to get out on paper.”
Mr. Goldberg joked about the twisted humor of animators: “I’m about to have a child,” he said, “and the only rule I have moving into being a parent is that my child will never date a disgusting, disgusting animator.”
Mr. Vernon directed “Sausage Party” with Greg Tiernan, who owns the Vancouver animation company Nitrogen Studios with his wife, Nicole Stinn. It is known for producing the series “Thomas & Friends,” about Thomas the Tank Engine.
Making “Sausage Party” with Nitrogen meant the producers could keep the costs low with a budget of $20 million, a fraction of the production costs for a film like “Finding Dory.” Nitrogen used a lean crew. “There’s not too many middle men,” Mr. Tiernan said.
To add a sense of varied design to a film mostly set in a supermarket, the filmmakers turned the store’s aisles into distinct worlds influenced by the work of a handful of filmmakers. They pay homage to Sergio Leone westerns, Jackie Chan action films and war movies like “Saving Private Ryan.”
And they got “The Little Mermaid” composer Alan Menken to write a song for the opening scene.
Mr. Vernon said the filmmakers told him: “We’re looking for an Alan Menken Disney song. We need you to satirize yourself.”
The look of the characters was a much-discussed topic of conversation leading up to the making of the film.
Mr. Rogen said they went through hundreds of designs for some of the main characters, including the hot dog he plays.
“At first, he looked really gross, too meaty,” Mr. Rogen said. “So we had to tone down the meat texture a little bit. We asked, should he wear shoes or gloves? Should his arms be these black tubes, or should his arms be made out of sausage as well?”
The taco voiced by Salma Hayek created some of the greatest design challenges.
“It’s a super-awkward shape,” Mr. Rogen said. “We asked, where do her legs come from, and where do her arms go? What does it look like when she’s sideways?”
The overtly sexual look of some characters came up particularly in the design of Brenda the bun’s mouth.
“At some point, one of the animators showed us a design where she had that mouth — once you saw it, you could never un-see it,” Mr. Rogen said. “There was a point we were worried that the M.P.A.A. wouldn’t let us have that in commercials.”