June 3, 2024

CultureLimited Government

“Unfrosted”: Mildly Funny Feature-Length Breakfast Commercial

By: Justin Tucker

For most of history, movies that are released on the big screen are often seen as a superior form of entertainment. During Hollywood’s Golden Age, the theater was the only place to see movies. The major studios built glorious movie palaces to showcase their productions which starred a stable of talent often under long contracts. Hollywood lost some of its audience and reacted to keep itself competitive after the 1948 United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. Supreme Court decision, which broke up the vertical integration models of the movie studios, and the rise of television.

On the small screen, the major broadcasters and home video distributors competed with the cinemas by producing feature-length programs or releasing titles to video stores. These productions were generally of inferior quality. Subpar production values, hammy acting, and sensationalist subject matter are often attributes of this type of fare. With the rise of cable television, outlets like HBO produced television movies of a higher pedigree, routinely with A-list talent, and were bestowed numerous accolades like Emmy Awards, television’s highest honor.

With the rise of streaming, the various platforms are now providing audiences with movies seen as of equal prestige with theatrically-released films. Streaming services have chosen to compete for Academy Awards, a film’s highest honor, instead of Emmys, with Apple TV+’s CODA securing the first streaming Best Picture win. As streaming proliferates and box office revenues decline, it seems Peak TV shed some of the perception that content made for audiences outside of traditional cinemas is inferior.

In a recent interview with GQ promoting his Netflix comedy feature Unfrosted, director and comedian Jerry Seinfeld declared the film business to be dead, saying, “film doesn’t occupy the pinnacle in the social, cultural hierarchy that it did for most of our lives. When a movie came out, if it was good, we all went to see it. We all discussed it. We quoted lines and scenes we liked. Now we’re walking through a fire hose of water, just trying to see.” Unfortunately for Maestro Seinfeld, the only thing that sets Unfrosted apart is that it is a film directed by Seinfeld. This film is indistinguishable from the other drops of water spewing from Seinfeld’s figurative hose and demonstrates his point.

The film tells the “true” story of the invention of Pop-Tarts in the mid-1960s. Seinfeld stars as Bob Cabana, an executive at Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Michigan. Across town are his competitors at Post, headed by Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer), who are developing a toaster pastry they hope will revolutionize breakfast. Bob’s team at Kellogg’s then rushes to create their own toaster pastry as if they are trying to beat the USSR to the moon. Wackiness ensues.

As a commercial for breakfast brands, Unfrosted is novel and it is yet to be seen how the film will impact Pop-Tart sales. For a comedy, the film has a few amusing moments but the main joke is quickly overplayed. I was rarely provoked to hard laughter. This is particularly disappointing as the film is stuffed with cameos by usually reliable comedy stars.

Among the film’s few comedic high points involves Hugh Grant as Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger, leading an attack on Kellogg’s headquarters with other striking breakfast mascots, mocking the embarrassing events of January 6th, 2021. I was also amused by Bobby Moynihan as Chef Boyardee and Bill Burr as President Kennedy, who both should have received more screen time.

Though mild for a comedy, Unfrosted is not a bad movie. Maestro Seinfeld, assisted by cinematographer Bill Pope (Team American: World Police) and production designer Clayton Hartley (The Big Short) creates a lush, whimsical Cold War world that is pleasant to look at. However, despite the very distinguished talent in front of and behind the cameras, the film feels like an overly extended comedy sketch than a proper movie. It offers no insight into entrepreneurial ingenuity and those who might be seeking and those who wish to learn about the actual development of Pop-Tarts might be let down.

Whether a film opens at the multiplex, premiered on television, or went straight to video, we can be sure about a couple of things. One is that most films do not become classics and the other is that most films are disposable. Seinfeld’s Big Breakfast propaganda piece appears to be on this trajectory and will not be honored like his groundbreaking sitcom.