REVIEW: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs [2009]

“A film by a lot of people”

I knew right after the above review title quote flashed across the screen that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was going to be a fun time. Sony Pictures Animation did not let me down, keeping me enthralled and smiling for the entire duration. Based on a children’s book from 1978, the film follows the exploits of a young scientist and his dreams of changing the world with his inventions. Up to adulthood, however, he has achieved little more that a ‘menace to society’ label from everyone in his small island town of Swallow Falls, where the staple of sardines has become there only source of food now that the world has realized they’re gross. Small and subtle jokes such as this statement as a newspaper headline are sprinkled throughout to keep the audience’s sense of humor on its toes while the feel-good story in the background continues on, reaching forward to the inevitable nerd-to-hero transformation wherein Flint Lockwood grows up and into his full potential.

The invention that becomes the final straw for Flint’s disturbing the peace shenanigans is a machine that converts water into food, giving the people of his hometown something to eat besides the overabundance of sardines. Its baptism to the world is a disaster, ruining the mayor’s asinine use of government money on a new theme park, soon becoming a happy accident of epic proportions. A malfunction due to too much power—I guess connecting the machine to an electrical tower wasn’t the best of ideas—sends it into the atmosphere where it hovers above, taking in the cloud moisture and raining down hamburgers for all to enjoy. Let’s not get into details about how that burger will be hot enough to be appetizing because there is a lot more to worry about, such as newfound fame in the community and the world. Flint is the toast of the town and fresh face of newly renamed Chew and Swallow, usurping the monopoly ‘Baby’ Brent had on the market after posing for sardine tins many years before. Even the cute weather girl intern sent to broadcast it all seems to be falling for him, she herself hiding nerd tendencies and a strong grasp of the scientific beneath her flighty, blonde facade.

Mutations are never an exact science and soon the food falling from the sky becomes too large and dangerous to contain. It becomes up to Flint and his friends to risk it all and save the town before the invention—named with a crazy acronym that has about six consonants and one vowel—takes over the world. The mayor wants nothing to change, except his ever-expanding waistband, and in an accidentally villainous role makes things even worse, using the ‘like a son’ card with the lad, made more meaningful by the lack in ability to express love from his real Dad. So, amidst the chaos, we meet a plethora of kooky characters all voiced by some great comedic actors as they try and help our lead regain control over the one invention that actually works. Well, that statement is a bit harsh considering that everything he’s created—from a young elementary student until now—has worked. It’s just that they all had minor problems turning that success into hazard or worse. Spray-on shoes is a great concept if you can ever remove them; monkey thought converters would be groundbreaking if a monkey ever could string together more than one loud word at a time, (great Neil Patrick Harris as Steve); and rat-birds would solve … wait, what was he thinking with that one? I did like when one swooped down and snatched a child to which his friends screamed, “Just play dead!”

The animation is really crisp and vibrant, utilizing a cartoony feel rather than a need for realism. Each character is an elongated caricature of a human, adding a sense of style that allows an audience to enter a new world and bask in the creativity. I do kind of wish I had seen it in 3D, though, because multiple instances appear to play to that technology’s strengths. There are a few chase sequences that have us following the leads as they run and jump through obstacles flying out at our faces. But, the biggest compliment I can pay to the film is the fact that I enjoyed myself thoroughly without the gimmick. Every joke hits and the story is fun enough to succeed on its own merits. There is definitely something to be said about absurd comedic set pieces existing for the sole purpose to make you laugh. Oneliners abound, sometimes said in the distance so keep your ears open, and sight gags enhance the hilarity, oftentimes reminding me of the humor found in “Family Guy”, only much cleaner for the young audience targeted here.

Bill Hader is great as Flint, with a sort of crazed innocence coming across, so sure of himself in the scientific world, yet completely unconfident in the realm of real-life relationships. Both James Caan and Anna Faris, as his father and love interest Sam Sparks respectively, are casting perfection. Faris is a riot; using that bimbo voice she pulls off so well to great use, especially when she has to talk about something brainy and genius-caliber smart. Andy Samberg is a hoot as Brent and Bruce Campbell is channeling a bit of William Shatner in his portrayal of Mayor Shelbourne, but it is the venerable Mr. T as Officer Earl Devereaux that shines in the supporting category. It is such a treat to hear his voice—a wonderful complement to the overzealously athletic policeman. Everything is working within Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s film, from the heart to the jokes to the visuals. It may not stand a chance against Up for awards glory, but it definitely sets itself apart as a film to be seen.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] “Sam Sparks” voiced by Anna Faris and “Flint Lockwood” voiced by Bill Hader in Columbia Pictures’ animated film CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS. ©2009 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Raining food in Columbia Pictures’ animated film CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS. ©2009 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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