Movie Review: Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Unfrosted’ is as artificial as Pop-Tarts

Movie Review: Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Unfrosted’ is as artificial as Pop-Tarts

A scene from 'Unfrosted'. Photo courtesy of Netflix

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Oh, for the comedic integrity of Sid and Marty Krofft’s 1971 Lidsville. The creators of H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters offered a world populated by talking hats. Compared with Netflix’s Unfrosted, the anthropomorphized Saturday morning toppers were comic gold along the lines of Chaplin, Keaton, and Larry David. 

Unfrosted tells the fictional tale of the creation of the Pop-Tart. The premise hinges on the 1963 toaster pastry battle between Kellogg and Post, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Jerry Seinfeld directed, co-wrote, co-produced, and stars as Bob Cabana, a Kellogg executive. So, guess who is responsible for this overbaked, leaden soufflé? 

The film attempts to be “ZANY!!!” (Yes: all caps, bold, italics, underlined, and three exclamation marks. Perhaps “zzz-any” would have been a better summation.) Rarely has so much energy and celebrity power been squandered on forced, unfunny material as artificial as Pop-Tarts themselves. Strawberry Pop-Tarts contain less than two percent dried strawberries. Unfrosted contains less than two percent real comedy. (Maybe the film needed an injection of soybean and palm oil with tBHQ for freshness.)

The film’s humor is low-hanging fruit (there are those dried strawberries again). Unfrosted spoofs corporate espionage, the moon landing, awards shows (the Bowl and Spoon Awards), genetic engineering (a ravioli stuffed with Sea Monkeys escapes the lab), the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a dangerous milk syndicate. A benign throughline about disgruntled product mascots, led by Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger, becomes a tasteless and horrifying send-up of January 6. 

With witty dialogue including “What are you, some kind of ding dong?” and “Uh-Oh! Spaghetti O’s!” along with punchlines relying on dumpster diving, former Nazi scientists, and high fructose corn syrup, how could they go right? (And just when you think it is over, there is a full-cast song with bloopers and outtakes.)

Seinfeld recruited and sadly misused a first-rate roster. Melissa McCarthy is Donna Stankowski, Cabana’s former cohort who went to NASA. Here, she turns in her standard comedy-for-paycheck performance. Jim Gaffigan blusters as Edsel Kellogg III, playing opposite Amy Schumer’s uncomfortable Marjorie Post. Hugh Grant appears as a version of Hugh Grant as Thurl Ravenscroft, the Shakespearean actor who is the rebellious Tony the Tiger. 

For no apparent reason, the research team is composed of Jack LaLanne (James Marsden), Steve Schwinn (Jack McBrayer), Harold von Brauhnut (Thomas Lennon), Chef Boyardee (Bobby Moynihan), and Tom Carvel (Adrian Martinez). Cumulatively, they do not manage more than one-and-a-half dimensions and two-and-a-half laughs. 

Most of the starry company feature in a handful of brief scenes. Christian Slater as a smilingly sinister milkman. Bill Burr’s sexed-up John F. Kennedy (with the gratuitous Marilyn Monroe references) is matched by Dean Norris’s Nikita Krushchev, a mumbling version of Bullwinkle and Rocky’s arch-enemy, Boris Badenov. Peter Dinklage is amusing as Harry Friendly, leader of the milk syndicate, and John Slattery and Jon Hamm’s Mad Men ad men are a welcome surprise (until they start pitching, and then it’s back to business as usual). Kyle Dunnigan’s Walter Cronkite presents a decent impersonation, but jokes about Cronkite’s bad marriage (huh?) fall flat. Dozens more fill out the cast in supporting roles and cameos. One hopes everyone was well paid or at least given a good lunch. 

Visually, Unfrosted appears in a Barbie style that seems like a brighter version of Asteroid City or Don’t Worry, Darling—that late 1950s/early 1960s hyper vibrance. Cinematographer William Pope, editor Evan Henke, production designer Clayton Hartley, and costume designer Susan Matheson provide what little style the film achieves. 

On April 29, Netflix released a promo explaining that Unfrosted referenced two hundred and twenty-one trademarked breakfast cereals without permission or legal clearance. The promo runs two minutes and thirteen seconds. The film lasts ninety-six minutes. Do yourself a favor: Skip both. 


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