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Would You Believe the Jerry Seinfeld Pop-Tarts Movie Sucks?

No Pop-Tarts-related media will ever top the conclusion to last December’s Pop-Tarts Bowl, which ended with a human Pop-Tart mascot committing suicide by lowering himself into a giant on-field toaster (while holding a sign that said “Dreams Really Do Come True”) and then emerging out of a distant kitchen slot as a toasted edible treat that the winning Kansas State football team hungrily devoured. Corporate marketing at its most surreal, it deservedly became a late-2023 viral sensation, and highlighted the abject absurdity of this event’s every aspect. In the face of such a performance-art masterpiece, what hope was there for any competing breakfast-food entertainment?

Accepting that formidable challenge is Jerry Seinfeld, who directs, co-writes, and headlines Unfrosted, a new Netflix comedy, out May 3, about the creation of the famed morning snack. Boasting an enormous roster of funny men and women in a tale that’s fashioned in a 1960s Space Race mold, it’s an amusing trifle of a feature, generating more mild smiles than outright laughs. Superior to Seinfeld’s prior cinematic offering, 2007’s animated Bee Movie, it’s content to be childishly silly rather than legitimately weird, veering between gags concerning age-old products and Jan. 6 with a mildness that keeps things pleasantly pedestrian. There’s nothing particularly awful about it, but there’s also very little that’s memorable, save for an advertising-agency bit involving some choice cameos, the welcome participation of Hugh Grant, and a child performance that manages to one-up the film’s cavalcade of stars.

In an old-fashioned diner, a young runaway (Isaac Bae) takes a seat on a stool beside Bob Cabana (Seinfeld), who proceeds to recount the origin story of the Pop-Tart in Battle Creek, Michigan, home to both Kelloggs and Post. Cabana works for the former under the leadership of Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan), who’s thrilled with Bob’s success at making their company the king of the cereal world—as evidenced by the numerous trophies they earn at the 1963 Bowl and Spoon Awards. Kelloggs is the mecca of the industry, and Unfrosted depicts its headquarters as a colorful place populated by people dressed as their products’ iconic characters, from Snap (Kyle Mooney), Crackle (Mikey Day), and Pop (Drew Tarver) to Tony the Tiger (Grant), who’s played by pompous Shakespearean actor Thurl Ravenscroft, and whose catchphrase (“They’re Gr-r-reat!”) is birthed via a commercial-shoot eureka that’s as ho-hum as many of the ensuing jokes.

Some of this is based in fact and the rest of it is loopy fiction, but regardless, it’s wittier in theory than in execution. That additionally goes for Kelloggs’ rivalry with Post, whose CEO Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer) is always accompanied by her bumbling right-hand man Rick Ludwin (Max Greenfield), and who desperately yearns to best her adversary. To do that, she has a plan, although it remains unknown to Bob until one fateful morning when he spies two children—Cathy (Eleanor Sweeney) and Butchie (Bailey Sheetz)—dumpster diving through Post’s trash. “They come for the goo,” says a garbage truck driver to Bob. When Bob asks the kids themselves what they’re up to, Cathy explains, in a hilariously growly and intense voice, that what they seek is “some hot fruit lightning the man doesn’t want you to have”—an instance of wacko nonsense that turns out to be the line reading of the entire film.

(L to R) Jim Gaffigan as Edsel Kellogg III, Jerry Seinfeld (Director) as Bob Cabana, Fred Armisen as Mike Puntz and Melissa McCarthy as Donna Stankowski in Unfrosted

John P. Johnson / Netflix

This tips Bob off to Post’s scheme to create a revolutionizing handheld breakfast item, and motivates him to recruit his former creative partner Donna Stankowski (Melissa McCarthy) to crack the code before Post can beat them to store shelves. Since Donna is employed by NASA (cue an origin-story joke about Tang), this casts the proceedings as a prolonged riff on America and the Soviet Union’s competition to reach the Moon. That’s as chuckle-worthy as things get in Unfrosted, whose main idea is to trot out as many cereal-related mascots as possible, from Quaker’s religiously minded, oatmeal-adoring Isaiah Lamb (Andy Daly) to the ace squad assembled by Bob and Donna which includes Chef Boy Ardee (Bobby Moynihan), Tom Carvel (Adrian Martinez), Steve Schwinn (Jack McBrayer), Harold Von Braunhut (Thomas Lennon), and Jack Lalanne (James Marsden). As is clear, not all of those individuals make sense in this context, and that’s precisely the point; Seinfeld and his co-screenwriters Spike Feresten, Andy Robin, and Barry Marder admirably strive for ridiculousness whenever possible, complete with crotch-covering foil pants and Sea-Monkey ravioli monsters.

In most cases, however, the material falls flat. Despite Seinfeld’s lifelong affinity for cereal (which was a part of his Seinfeld persona), Unfrosted doesn’t do much with its knowledge about Kelloggs and Post except to have famous faces dress up in goofy outfits and reference Alpha-Bits, Cream of Wheat, and other era-specific doo-dads like Silly Putty and X-ray glasses. Kyle Dunnigan grumbles about his wife and booze as Walter Cronkite and Bill Burr make cracks about philandering as President John F. Kennedy. Yet everything feels under-developed, as if Seinfeld and company assumed that the costumes alone would be enough to keep things lively. Only on rare occasions does the film go off the deep end into truly gonzo territory, and it’s better for it—a ceremonial funeral for a beloved colleague in which an open grave is transformed into a giant cereal bowl, for example, stands out for its bizarre insanity.

A photo including Amy Schumer and Max Greenfield

(L to R) Amy Schumer as Marjorie Post and Max Greenfield as Rick Ludwin in Unfrosted.

John P. Johnson / Netflix

Instead of going down that route, alas, Unfrosted squanders the majority of its good ideas—like the bitterness of the milkmen cabal toward a no-milk-required food like Pop-Tarts—and concludes with a dreary siege on the Kelloggs offices to stop FDA certification of Pop-Tarts that’s staged by mascots led by Tony the Tiger in a QAnon Shaman-esque get-up. This is less funny than it sounds, and no matter the enthusiasm of Seinfeld, McCarthy, and the rest of their ensemble, the action rarely exhibits much comedic energy. With no inspired perspective on its subject matter, the film proves a soggy attempt at deriving humor from a breakfast-wars premise that seems better fit for a five-minute Saturday Night Live sketch—and doesn’t come close to matching the genuine madness of the Pop-Tarts Bowl’s death-by-consumption showstopper.

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