by HELEN GEIB
The uncontested release this weekend of Couples Retreat gave me the opportunity to catch up with the big family movie of September, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It’s far enough into the film’s run that it’s been pushed off my local multiplex’s 3-D screen by the Toy Story re-release, so this review is of the 2-D version.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which was adapted by co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller from the book by Judi and Ron Barrett, has a clever premise. The setting is a small town on a fictional small island located “just under the A in Atlantic Ocean.” The town has fallen on hard times since the local sardine canning plant closed and the populace is reduced to subsisting on the fish that was formerly the source of their prosperity. The hero is a young twentysomething inventor named Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) with a history of making inventions that have no practical application, but do have unfortunate unintended consequences. Spurred by a desire to help his community and prove his inventing chops, he makes a programmable device that converts water molecules into food. Soon Flint is busy filling orders for meals from the sky and his hometown is on the international map.
Flint heads a strong cast of characters, all rendered in amusingly exaggerated character designs. Flint himself is a comical, lovable mad scientist cast from a traditional mold: wild-eyed, crazy-haired, and misunderstood. His love interest is brainiac weathergirl Sam Sparks (voiced by Anna Faris); Sam’s character arc of learning to take pride in her intelligence and her love of science will be appreciated by millions of parents of adolescent girls. Principal supporting characters are Flint’s loving but inarticulate father (James Caan), who runs a bait and tackle shop and is given to obscure fishing metaphors; the conniving mayor (Bruce Campbell) whose inner character is revealed by his free food triggered gluttony; and the town’s tough-talking police officer, a softie under his muscled exterior (Mr. T).
There are two main, interwoven plot threads. The first is Flint’s quest to be accepted for who he is in the town he loves but where his patent oddballness has made him a perpetual outsider. The relationship-based storyline is pushed along by the evolution and resolution of the unfortunate unintended consequences that inevitably follow when it rains food. The balance shifts decisively to the second storyline for the third act as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs morphs into an action movie. The pacing, always fast, turns positively frenetic as the film bombards the viewer with chases, disaster movie-style effects, jokes (some needlessly vulgar), close calls, sentient food, visual references to other movies, and parallel editing tying together multiple action strands.
For much of the movie and especially in the third act, I felt like the filmmakers were throwing things at me through the screen and I wasn’t even watching the movie in 3-D. The animation is undeniably impressive; the characters’ faces and bodies are highly expressive, the bright colors are eye-catching, the Jello castle and the smorgasbord that nearly eats the town are something else. It’s also awfully aggressive. The film is more enjoyable in its earlier parts; although never relaxed, it didn’t seem so desperate for attention in the beginning.
2 1/2 stars