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 V.18 No.38 | September 17 - 23, 2009 

Film Review

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Hallelujah, it’s raining Mentos!

“I’ve invented Peripheral Artery Disease!”
“I’ve invented Peripheral Artery Disease!”

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Directed by Phil Lord & Chris Miller

Cast: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Bruce Campbell

While it can’t approach the rarified atmosphere of a Pixar film, Sony’s ambitious, 3-D, computer-animated kiddy flick Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs manages to cook up some harmless, high-flying fun.

The film is based on the beloved children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett. Writers/directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller (creators of the clever MTV toon “Clone High”) take quite a few liberties with the Barretts’ original, but the changes don’t do much to distort the inventive intent. Bill Hader from “Saturday Night Live” voices a nerdy, bean-pole-shaped scientist who grows up misunderstood by his blue-collar dad and generally ridiculed by his small-town neighbors. Flint Lockwood is an enthusiastic, well-meaning fellow, but his inventions invariably go awry, making him the eternal outcast. That looks to be the case with his latest world-changing doohickey, a machine that’s supposed to turn water into food. Seems that the one and only export (and sole food supply) of Flint’s oceanside hometown of Swallow Falls is anchovies. Lots and lots of anchovies. And everybody’s pretty sick of those. But an electrical overload sends Flint’s promising food-making device shooting skyward, where it vanishes into the clouds.

Flint works his nerdy mojo on the ladies.
Flint works his nerdy mojo on the ladies.

Dejected, Flint finally acquiesces to his dad’s perennial request and goes to work in the family business, a humble (anchovy-based, of course) bait shop. The next day, however, Flint’s device kicks into gear, and the clouds start sending down food-based precipitation. Soon the hungry residents of Swallow Falls are inundated with all manner of edibles. The makers of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs have a great deal of fun playing around with this idea, whipping up ice cream snowstorms and imagining restaurants without roofs, so food can plop right on your plate.

The voice cast is wisely chosen for ability rather than star power. Hader is well-suited to his egghead everyman, while Anna Faris (Scary Movie) provides him with a romantic foil in the form of an intern weathergirl sent to cover Swallow Falls’ mysterious new weather patterns. James Caan (sounding a hell of a lot like James Gandolfini) is perfect as Flint’s grumpy, technophobic pop. Bruce Campbell seems to be having a lot of fun as the Greedy Gus mayor who renames the town Chewandswallow and pushes Flint to dream up more elaborate food-based weather in order to lure gastronomic tourists. In an already entertaining supporting cast, believe it or not, it’s Mr. T who provides the standout performance as the town’s brawny, no-tomfoolery-tolerating police chief.

The story doesn’t deliver anything particularly unexpected. Thanks to the mayor’s avarice and Flint’s desire to finally be accepted, the overworked food synthesizer eventually starts raining down delicious destruction all over the planet. This gives the filmmakers a chance to really let loose with the visual gags, resulting in something that’s half elementary school cafeteria food fight and half winking parody of big-budget disasters flicks like Twister, Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. (One TV newscaster wisely notes that the disaster seems conveniently focused on national landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China and Mount Rushmore.)

Like a lot of recent 3-D toons, the “RealD” technology doesn’t add anything particularly significant to the filmgoing experience. If you wanna fork out the extra $2.50, go for it. If not, you’re not missing much.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is no UP. (No duh.) But what Julie & Julia is for adults (breezy, hunger-inducing cinema), Cloudy is for kids. If the idea of Armageddon with meatballs instead of meteors tickles your funny bone, this foody toon makes for a tasty end-of-summer snack.


Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

This computer-animated cartoon expands mightily on Judi and Ron Barrett's beloved children's book, but still manages to maintain the inventive intent. Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is a small-town scientist who invents a machine that turns water into food. This gives the filmmakers a chance to let loose with the visual gags, resulting in something that's half elementary school cafeteria food fight and half winking parody of big-budget disaster flicks. 90 minutes PG.

 

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