Animated movies and shows often indulge in children’s wish-fulfillment fantasies. For the nerds in the audience, they may live through a plucky outcast hero who is appreciated for his skills. And in the case of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, kids also get to see a dream come true – seeing junk food and addictive snacks falling from the sky. Such daily snacks and newfound appreciation are a dream scenario for many kids, and for the plucky outcast hero of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs – though of course, there has to be some hiccups and world-threatening madness along the way.
Flint Lockwood has made failed, destructive inventions his entire life, making him an outcast in the island town of Swallow Falls, and barely understood by his father. But when the town’s sardine-based economy collapses, Flint’s new idea to turn water into food is put into action. Thanks to some accidental disasters, the invention actually turns out to work, using clouds to make food fall from the sky. With nearly everyone in town loving their new food, and with extra publicity coming from aspiring weather girl Sam Sparks, Flint is finally on top of the world – until the food storms become too super sized to handle.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs doesn’t come from Pixar, Dreamworks or even Fox, but Sony Animation. After modest success and an Oscar nod with Surf’s Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is giving Sony a bigger stake on the CGI animation map. The surprise box office success of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is partly due to playing in IMAX 3D, as its premise of falling food is certainly obvious for an IMAX 3D tribute.
But Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs doesn’t entirely depend on 3D and falling food effects, for at least the first half anyway. The 3D technology isn’t put on overdrive, nor is it used as a crutch, which is a good sign. The slight but charming, if not occasionally sentimental, story and characters work fine on their own, although their antics may be more chuckle-worthy than laugh out loud for the most part. However, Sony’s animation is successful in giving Flint and company personality and comic flare, which Dreamworks and Fox often struggle with.
The IMAX 3D lends itself well in early bits like the destruction of “Sardine World” and a sequence set entirely in Jello. The movie also tries to sneak in some jabs at our fast food culture – though the town’s tiny Mayor is the only one whose waistline gets notably bigger. But Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs may just come across as Wall-E light in those moments.
By the second half, things turn more to action as the food gets bigger and more destructive. This is where IMAX 3D really becomes a factor, as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs becomes a disaster movie parody with food. It plays more like a comic preview of the upcoming 2012, only in family friendly CGI, and with more comic charm than Roland Emmerich is likely capable of. The action shift may bother for those who prefer the smaller portions of the first half, but the gags still come fast and furious in tandem with the tasty end of the world.
Instead of having big superstars in the voice cast, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs features a bunch of rising comedy cult stars and veterans. Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader, who’s built up a string of notable live action supporting movie roles, more than earns his promotion to animated leading role as Flint. Anna Faris is also a great fit as Sam, while Hader’s fellow SNL co-star Andy Samberg is enjoyably overboard as a deluded child star bully. James Caan is more of an unlikely animated voice as Flint’s dad, but serves as the heart of the picture – although his character’s eyebrows are often funnier than his voice. Bruce Campbell and Mr. T add their own scene stealing – with Mr. T not having to use his trademark catchphrases for once.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs may seem slight compared to Pixar, as most non-Pixar animated films are. But Meatballs ranks high up among the Pixar challengers of late, with near laugh/chuckle-a-minute humor, big time snack attacks, and a heartfelt “nerd power” message mixed into the stew.