How to craft a classic adult animation, according to ‘Bob’s Burgers’

Ahead of 'The Bob's Burgers Movie', creator Loren Bouchard tells NME about the secrets behind the show's lasting success

Watching Bob’s Burgers is like hanging out with a mate who’s really funny, but also fundamentally decent. It’s a show that’s quite literally about a family – titular patty purveyor Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), wife Linda (John Roberts) and kids Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) – that really captures all the warmth and messiness of family life. The series recently wrapped its 12th season (with a 13th on the way), but creator Loren Bouchard isn’t getting complacent. In fact, he’s just co-written and co-directed The Bob’s Burgers Movie, the show’s first ever cinematic spin-off.

Though it features prominent musical numbers and a murder mystery storyline involving amusement park owners Calvin and Felix Fischoeder (Kevin Kline and Zach Galifianakis), The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a charming triumph because it doesn’t take the lazy option of plonking the Belcher clan in a strange new setting. “We knew right from the beginning that we wanted to go deeper, not bigger,” Bouchard explains to NME. “We wanted to take the exact same environments you’ve seen in the show – particularly the amusement park –  and reveal things that were hidden in plain sight the whole time.

“We really wanted to make the movie a celebration of this world that you’ve seen before, but paint it with more detail and surprises.”

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Here, Bouchard outlines five key ingredients that have made Bob’s Burgers a modern TV classic.

Avoiding the “grumpy dad” trope

“You know the universal grumpy dad character who’s sort of annoyed by the choices his kids make? It’s low-hanging fruit, and we weren’t interested in that at all. Bob can be grumpy, but he’s not fundamentally a grumpy dad. He’s actually this incredibly vulnerable person who’s trying to make this restaurant work, and that’s very much a creative act for him: in a funny way, he’s trying to express himself. And so when his kids and wife are expressing themselves too, you get the sense that they’re all on the same page. It’s very much them against the world rather than them against each other. And so the comedy comes from that rather than this, you know, grumpy dad figure who kind of hates his family.”

Tailoring the characters to the voice cast

“This cast is a little rocket we attach ourselves to. It’s fun hearing them interact with each other even before we start rolling. We didn’t just borrow their voices for the show; we borrowed certain aspects of their personalities, too. Really, we fit these characters to the voices as tightly as possible. There were no auditions: these were bespoke characters written for these actors. And I think that helps a lot in conveying that this is a family that accepts and cares for each other. Even when there’s conflict between Bob and his kids, you never doubt that Bob fully accepts them and that Linda loves them fiercely.”

Bob’s Burgers
‘Bob’s Burgers’ (Picture: Alamy)

Allowing room for improvisation

“We began with a lot of improv on the series and we treasure it. It’s not necessarily about what the actor says, but the way they say it. Often the actor’s trying to get a reaction – either from me or someone else in the session – and that gives a certain kind of performance. But what I will say is this: because we’ve been doing this for such a long time, we can kind of artificially create that improvised feel. Sometimes we’re writing as best we can, something we think that the actor might have improvised.”

Harnessing the passion of fans

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“We realised early on that we had passionate fans, and we needed them because we weren’t a ratings hit [to begin with]. You know, it wasn’t a sure thing that we would get renewed. We had a deep fanbase but not necessarily a wide one, and I’d take that every time. Because once we had that relationship with the fans, we focused on our responsibility to them rather than looking for ways to grow the audience in terms of size. Once you find that fan that really takes the show into their heart, you just want to speak to them, really.”

Relishing the challenge of keeping things fresh

“It’s definitely getting harder to make this show. There was a point where it felt easier: like, we know what we’re doing now and we have the wind beneath our wings. But after more than 200 episodes, you start to see that the spots on the map that you haven’t explored yet are vanishing fast. You really have to dig around to find stories you haven’t done yet. But that’s a fun game to play, and I think it’s a good time for the show to become more difficult to make. Because if it wasn’t, we’d just be getting lazy.”

The Bob’s Burgers Movie is in cinemas tomorrow (May 27)

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