Totally unfamiliar with the children’s book of the same name, I went in to Sony Animation’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs with an unattached blank slate– a slate quickly loaded with a congenial array of off-center comedy and LOL zing. Who knew?
Cloudy barrels forward with a technicolor introduction to Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), a young inventor whose creations always seem to come up a couple practical applications shy of success and his father’s support. Apparently, a walking TV and rat-birds aren’t in high demand. Flint stumbles on his greatest idea ever when the sardine-centric town of Swallow Falls (located under the “A” on your map’s “Atlantic Ocean”) runs into a sardine market collapse and discovers sardines are straight nasty.
The fix? Create a machine that sucks water through the top and squirts food out a rainbow shooting sphincter in the bottom. That sounds straight nasty too, but after a mishap the thing goes into low orbit and, in a dream come true, starts pooping out hamburgers, pizza and every other food Americans love and eat too much of. Soon, the whole town’s making requests, the machine overloads and begins mutating spring rolls and pancakes into town crushing projectiles. That’s a problem, as all excess food has been stored behind a makeshift dam overlooking the city and with the onslaught of food, dam’s about to blow. In the mean time, Flint’s got father issues, mayoral issues, police chief issues, a New York weather girl to impress and a berserk invention to fix– all before a kid-friendly 90 minutes run-time is up.
But the third act is where Cloudy borders on overkill. As Flint confronts his machine, Cloudy loses the frothy sugar high of its first half and devolves into a slogging, mealy meatball of weird. Still, spots of humor, an hour of charmed goodwill and an energetic cast keeps Cloudy precariously anchored through its drug-induced final act. Anna Ferris ladles gobs of bubblegum cuteness into weather girl Sam Sparks and Mr. T all but steals every scene he’s in as hyper-animated police chief Earl Devereaux. Bruce Campbell voices the Swallow Falls’ mayor with his typically smug bravado and James Caan endearingly mumbles as Flint’s bushy-browed Dad.
Characters are broadly illustrated with basic, bug-eyed caricature that doesn’t register in the higher levels of facial animation. Cute at times, slightly weird at others, the character animation winkingly pokes fun at itself. In a scene where Flint goes in for a liplock with Sam, he can’t get past his massive nose and puffs out his thin lips to seal the deal. Quirk and creative animation in the most random of places punch up goofy site gags as Chew And Swallow residents scarf food from the heavens amidst vibrant and neon-tinged special effects, clouds and explosions. No color of the literal rainbow is left untouched and the background plates are beautifully and whimsically detailed- many images would be at home in the pages of a Loren Long illustrated storybook.
Amidst all the shenanigans, the heart of the film is anchored in the relationship between fathers and sons. Granted, the themes combined screen time takes up ten minutes of the film’s story, but it’s a decent attempt amidst its eye-popping palette.
Like many capitalist-driven towns, Swallow Falls soon capitalizes on its savory weather by constructing a budget-level candy land heaped with massive piles of treats where kids are invited to unaccompanied engorgement. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is its own iteration: all confection with some gluttony– but as a whole a delightful surprise.
* As a crazy aside, I laughed to myself and wondered if Cloudy wasn’t a big gay-kissed movie for straight folks. At least in the art direction. The kids open wide and are enveloped in rainbows while in the end credits, they shoot purple rays into the world which explodes into a big rainbow heart. The whole bit in the credit sequence lines up with the joyful tone of the film’s visuals, so maybe I’m over thinking it. Either way, it goes to show rainbows and purple sure aren’t as demure as they used to be.