Sony // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 7th, 2010
Prepare to get served.
"Come on, Steve. We've got a diem to carpe!"
Ever since his childhood days, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader, Tropic Thunder) has dreamed of being a world-famous inventor. Alas, all of his inventions to date have been spectacular failures, bringing a great deal of grief not only to Flint's father (James Caan, The Godfather) but to the entire town. Flint's latest odd creation is a machine designed to transform water into food...any sort of food. The test run of the machine doesn't go well at all, as the device rockets across the town creating all sorts of chaos before soaring into the clouds. It seems like just another one of Flint's failures...until a few moments later, hamburgers start raining down from the sky.
The feature-length animated adaptation of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs may not have much to do with Judi and Ron Barrett's book of the same name, aside from the fact that it does indeed tell a story about food falling from the sky. And you know what? I'm okay with that, because even though I loved the book as a kid, the movie is a fun, witty romp that manages to achieve a pitch-perfect blend of sincerity and slapstick. Though it's based on a book, this is a surprisingly original outing.
What's particularly impressive about the film is the manner in which the screenplay finds a way to successfully have its cake and eat it, too (no pun intended). The story is both a conventionally inspirational tale and a satire of conventionally inspirational stories, managing to be moving while also giving itself a good poke in the ribs on a regular basis. Even the typical jokes acknowledge their typicality: consider the expected scene in which we see large piles of food crashing down on top of famous locations like Big Ben, the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, Mount Rushmore, etc. During this scene, we cut to a news reporter, who dryly informs us that, "In a strange turn of events, these storm clouds seem to be exclusively attacking famous monuments around the world."
Sure, the great big climax in which humanity is forced to battle an array of giant food items falling from the sky may seem like a fairly standard-issue all-action-and-nothing-else third act, until you realize that it's a great big climax in which humanity is forced to battle an array of giant food items falling from the sky! It's all terribly entertaining stuff, jam-packed with a blend of never-ending visual gags, "cheesy" puns and good old-fashioned weirdness (with all due respect to the oddities of Coraline, the strangest animated sequence of 2009 has to be the scene in this film in which a character is attacked by a gang of somehow-sentient oven-roasted chickens).
Though kids will probably be most enthralled by the aforementioned climax, my favorite scenes were the more low-key moments early on. Though sweet little romances between sweet little characters are commonplace in family films like this one (well, there aren't many quite like this one, but you know what I mean), I confess that I found this film's sweet little romance to be...well, very sweet. This is largely due to the fact that the writers make Flint and Sam (the attractive weather girl Flint pines after) rather distinct characters, not just cookie-cutter misfits that are pushed around by the demands of the plot. The filmmakers take full advantage of the movie's absurd premise at every possible opportunity, giving us a scene in which Flint attempts to woo Sam by building her a lavish palace made of Jell-O.
Voice work from the B-plus-list cast is excellent across the board. Bill Hader and Anna Faris bring a spunky sincerity to their leading roles, while James Caan does his best James Gandolfini impression as the gruff Tim. Bruce Campbell and Andy Samberg ham it up in goofy supporting roles, while Mr. T turns in a surprisingly nuanced turn as a small-town police officer. One of the most amusingly odd voice turns in the film comes from Neil Patrick Harris as a monkey named Steve, who has been equipped with a device that allows Flint to hear Steve's thoughts (think of Dug in Up).
As with many modern animated releases, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs looks pretty terrific in hi-def. The animation isn't as complex as the usual Pixar or Dreamworks fare, but the filmmakers clearly made the most of what they had to work with. I was very impressed with the facial expressions of the characters. Sam in particular has a delightfully distinct face that frequently says so much more than what comes out of the character's mouth. Early scenes in the film have a dour, desaturated color palette that's quite atypical for an animated flick, but once the food starts raining down the movie enters an absurdly, delightfully oversaturated world of brightness...a gluttony of bright color, if you will. Audio is also solid, with an enthusiastic Mark Mothersbaugh score coming through with strength and clarity. The big climax will really give your speakers a solid work-out too, with the usual pounding and booming accompanied by charming sounds of food squishing and crunching.
The extras tend to be a bit lightweight, but they're enjoyable. The best item is probably the commentary track with Bill Hader and directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller. All of these guys are very funny, which keeps the track engaging from start to finish. "A Recipe for Success: The Making of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" (11 minutes) is the usual EPK-style featurette, which features a wonderful moment in which the directors quote Robert Altman as a lead-in to a very silly moment in which they stuff a copy of the original book with raw beef. "Key Ingredients: The Voices of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" (12 minutes) is a fun look at all of the actors performing their roles (Mr. T = awesome). You also get a music video featuring Miranda Cosgrove (4 minutes), a featurette spotlighting the making of the music video (2 minutes), two extended scenes (3 minutes), some progression reels (9 minutes) and early development scenes (6 minutes), an interactive game and a feature that allows you to throw food at the screen while you watch the movie. No, really. Plus, you get a DVD copy of the film (an excellent addition to kid-centered releases like this one).
What a pleasant surprise this film is. It's not just a cute family movie; it's a flat-out hilarious one. Heartily recommended.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Extended Scenes
* Music Video
* Interactive Games
* DVD Copy