Review: Jerry Seinfeld’s Breakfast Food Satire Unfrosted Sends Up the Sugar Industrial Complex with a Stellar Cast

Quite often, when a film features such a completely stacked cast of comedic talent, it’s almost guaranteed to be terrible. Sure, some of the actors will get out a doozy of a line here and there, but it will likely be dozens of very funny people each playing broad and going for easy laughs, with the result being that there are very few laughs at all. And then there’s the fake docudrama Unfrosted, a film that gently mocks the recent wave of nostalgia-fueled films that dramatize the invention of everything from Air Jordans and the Blackberry to Beanie Babies and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I’m not even convinced that's what the film's director and co-writer Jerry Seinfeld intended to do, but that makes it all the more brilliant in its execution. Seinfeld turns what was likely a spirited rivalry between two competing cereal companies—Kellogg’s and Post—into World War III, with a side order of the January 6 insurrection, and makes it hilarious.

Set in Battle Creek, Michigan, circa 1963, the film establishes Kellogg’s as the clear creative and popular winner among breakfast consumers. Run by Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan) with his right-hand man Bob Cabana (Seinfeld) and right-hand woman Poppy Northcutt (Sarah Cooper), he enjoys being a winner, even as he has unwise flirtations with Post leader Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer). Kellogg’s accidentally discovers that Post is working on a “shelf-stable breakfast pastry” that will likely change the face of breakfast forever, and rather than go down in flames, Kellogg’s hires one of their greatest former creatives, Donna Stankowski (Melissa McCarthy), to work with Cabana and come up with a product and strategy to top Post’s creation, eventually leading to the Pop Tart (the unfrosted variety, as the title implies).

I have no idea if any of this is true, and I don’t care. Some of the names are real, but beyond that, this may all be complete fiction, and it’s still a borderline masterpiece of satire. The observations about cereal, the milk industry, the sugar industrial complex, the branding and marketing of breakfast consumables, and corporate mascots are a scream, and all feel like versions of what Seinfeld might touch upon in his own stand-up routines. But the writing goes so far beyond setups and punchlines. One of my favorite characters in Unfrosted is classically trained British actor Thurl Ravenscroft (Hugh Grant), the real-life pompous ass who wore the Tony the Tiger costume for Frosted Flakes commercials. But this version of him becomes so frustrated with his lot in life that he attempts to lead a rebellion among all food-oriented mascots, which turns into a storming of Kellogg’s corporate headquarters that resembles a certain 2021 event at the U.S. Capitol Building.

And the hits keep on coming: Max Greenfield, Christian Slater, Bill Burr (as JFK!), Daniel Levy, James Marsden, Jack McBrayer, Thomas Lennon, Bobby Moynihan, Adrian Martinez, Fred Armisen, Kyle Mooney, Mikey Day, Rachel Harris, Andy Daly, Cedric The Entertainer, Sebastian Maniscalco, Beck Bennett, Tony Hale, and a few I don’t even want to mention because the surprise is too good to ruin. Unfrosted takes itself seriously, which makes the story of betrayal, envy, ambition and even death, all the more silly. There are so many places the movie could have gone wrong, but Seinfeld and his very astute cohorts (on and off screen) fine-tune this beast into something that works on multiple levels yet still feels simple and relentless in its comedic targets. At the risk of overselling it, this film is Grrrrreat!

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.