‘Unfrosted’ Isn’t Unwatchable, It’s Just Unnecessary

Pop-Tarts get a business biopic. It doesn’t pop
‘Unfrosted’ Isn’t Unwatchable, It’s Just Unnecessary

In 1994, writer-director Alan Parker adapted T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel The Road to Wellville as a film. Loosely based on the real life and questionable wellness theories of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the story is set at and around Michigan’s Battle Creek Sanitarium, which Kellogg (played here by Anthony Hopkins) operated in the titular town. His brother, Will Keith Kellogg, also contributed to the promotion of healthy habits by joining John Harvey in the development of dry breakfast cereals. 

Thirty years later, Jerry Seinfeld has released Unfrosted, also about Kellogg’s breakfast foods, also set in Battle Creek, also very loosely based on real people and events. How many moderately counterfactual movies do we need about this subject? Probably one less than we have now.

Seinfeld plays Bob Cabana, an executive at Kellogg’s working directly with heir Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan). Bob busies himself with matters such as the spelling on “Froot Loops,” knowing no actual fruit is involved, and the demands of Snap (Kyle Mooney), Crackle (Mikey Day) and Pop (Drew Tarver) to extend their brand into a board game and maybe a beach movie. One day in 1963, Bob is outside the offices of Post, his company’s biggest rival in Battle Creek, when he watches a couple of kids, Butchie (Bailey Sheetz) and Cathy (Eleanor Sweeney) hop into a dumpster; after they survive a fall from there into a garbage truck, then hop out into yet another Post dumpster, the sanitation worker tells Bob the kids come for “the goo.” 

When Cathy and Butchie share some with Bob, he figures out why the Post execs at the recent Bowl and Spoon Awards (for breakfast cereal excellence) were so cheerful despite getting entirely swept by Kellogg’s: Post is about to bring the world a transportable fruit-filled pastry. To remain competitive, Kellogg’s has to lure back its most daring engineer, Donna “Stan” Stankowski (Melissa McCarthy), from her new job at NASA. 

The movie’s main gag is how many of the historical events we know about were, in the world of Unfrosted, mainly Pop-Tart-related. At a splashy press conference, Kellogg’s introduces the “taste pilots” Stan has assembled to spearhead the project, because creating Pop-Tarts is like the space race. Since toaster pastries don’t require the addition of any dairy product, the announcement runs afoul of “organized milk,” because creating Pop-Tarts might risk reprisal from a group like the mob. When Kellogg’s buys all the sugar from Puerto Rico, Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer) is forced to make a deal with Nikita Khruschev (Dean Norris) to import it from Cuba, leading to a potential nuclear standoff announced by president John F. Kennedy (Bill Burr), because creating Pop-Tarts echoes the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Space doesn’t permit me to explain how Maria Bakalova, Cedric The Entertainer, Ronny Chieng, Peter Dinklage, Alex Edelman, Tony Hale, John Hamm, Thomas Lennon, Dan Levy, Sebastian Maniscalco, Bobby Moynihan, Aparna Nancherla, Christian Slater, John Slattery, George Wallace, and Cedric Yarbrough are all implicated. Broadly speaking, it’s to distract you from how little courage the script has to commit to its conceit, going all the way back to the opening scene. George (Isaac Bae), a little boy running away from home, meets Bob by chance in a diner, orders Pop-Tarts, and reads the story on the side of the box. 

Bob tells him that the printed tale of Grandma Kellogg coming up with the recipe is “a bunch of baloney”: “You wanna know the real story?” “Nope!” George chirps. After Stan has brought together taste pilots including fitness guru Jack Lalanne (James Marsden) and bike magnate Steve Schwinn (Jack McBrayer), Bob wonders aloud if they shouldn’t have hired people who know more about food. “Could have,” Stan drawls, to no follow-up. When a lab test goes awry and a key character blows up, he is put to rest in a formal ceremony officiated by famous cereal Quaker Isaiah Lamb (Andy Daly), in the course of which various brand mascots fill the grave with milk and cereal until the coffin floats and Snap, Crackle, and Pop play the bagpipes. 

Maybe we could all enjoy the elastic reality of the moment if not for the decedent’s widow questioning everything that’s happening, including why anything that could take place at a cereal company would result in a fatal explosion — but this is the “no, but” energy that co-writers Seinfeld and Spike Feresten bring to the screenplay when they’re not distracting you with countless cameos. 

In terms of the historical tragedies Unfrosted evokes for laughs, every viewer will have to make their own judgment on how soon is too soon. JFK’s assassination is more than 60 years behind us; most reasonable people would probably agree it’s fine to joke about witnesses near the grassy knoll spotting a milkman there. But we also get Thurl Ravenscroft (Hugh Grant), who plays Frosted Flakes mascot Tony the Tiger, dressed in a horned and shredded headdress while leading a riot on Kellogg’s headquarters to prevent FDA representative Mike Puntz (Fred Armisen) from certifying the company’s new toaster pastry. For one thing, we might not all be ready to laugh about this when some Capitol Riots defendants are still making their way through the federal court system and others are filing to run for office themselves. For another, is this the kind of humor fans want from Jerry Seinfeld?

Maybe The Lonely Island or Lord and Miller or Rogen and Goldberg would have had the sense to cut the insurrection, and struck the right tone of absurdity to make this story pop. But probably no one could have, because it’s too high-fructose corny an idea to work under any circumstances. Calling Unfrostedone of the decade’s worst movies” is giving it too much credit. Superlatively terrible movies haunt your memories forever. If you watch Unfrosted — and you shouldn’t — you’ll forget it by lunch.


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