Movie Review: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
By Matthew Huntley
September 29, 2009
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs knows one of the lasting charms of animation is its ability to accomplish things that can't be done in live action, including some of the wild and crazy antics of slapstick. Cloudy has more in common with Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies than Up or 9, but it's busting with energy, imagination and a whole lot of food dropping from the sky (here's where most of the benefits of animation come in). These qualities will surely keep the little ones happy, but adults can enjoy them too, along with the often witty writing.
Inspired by the 1978 children's book of the same name, Cloudy tells the story of an ambitious young inventor named Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), whose shock of unruly hair and ceaseless determination qualify him as wannabe mad scientist. Ever since he was little, Flint dreamed of inventing, but his early concoctions were met with mixed results, including his spray-on shoes, which eventually had no way of coming off; his remote control television, which gave way to a rogue TV that eventually turns the tables on humans; and the pointless monkey thought transmitter.
Flint lives with his dad (James Caan) on the gloomy island town of Swallow Falls, located smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where the only means of food are sardines. Flint's mom always believed her son's gadgets would change the world, but his father (James Caan) thinks it's time he hang up his inventor's jacket and work at the family tackle shop. That's understandable after Flint's latest invention, a machine programmed to turn water into food, destroys the town's new amusement park, aptly named Sardine Land.
But it turns out Flint's machine actually works and before you know it, it starts raining cheeseburgers, ice cream and steaks! All the townspeople, including the muscle-bound, back-flipping sheriff (Mr. T, very funny), are overjoyed. A cute news anchor named Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) arrives from New York to cover the story and finds her interest in science suddenly rekindled, while the greedy mayor (Bruce Campbell) believes Flint's invention will be a whole new beginning for Swallow Falls. The only problem is the food keeps getting bigger and the oversized platters quickly put the town in danger.
Yes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is mostly a children's movie, but it refrains from dumbing itself down just to patronize its target audience. Rather, it's bright and inventive while simultaneously promoting strong, yet traditional, values like persistence, education, acceptance and being yourself. It's the kind of goofy, harmless and well-intentioned movie you want your kids to see, and it's definitely one they'll appreciate for its relentless energy, whimsy and romance.
I liked it for all those things and more, including its biting humor, dazzling look and sharp writing. It satirizes such notions as kids making fun of each other (Sam has a flashback to elementary school when all the kids teased her for wearing glasses) and older adults being scared by modern technology. There's also a zippy sequence when Flint must pass through a plethora of props to get back up to his inventor's station. The filmmakers utilized anything and everything they could think of and put it in this scene.
When I think back on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I think of it as cute and entertaining. It's not a sophisticated or emotional story, but rather a nutty, fast-paced romp that's light, breezy and cheerful. But don't let such a description underestimate the movie's value. People often think it's not as difficult to make these crazy, off the wall animations as much as the serious, heartfelt ones. That's probably because they're not as long-lasting or visceral, but it's also because the material isn't as weighty. Still, from the looks of things, the filmmakers had a lot of fun making it, and we appreciate it because their fun eventually becomes ours.