Monday, September 21, 2009

Review: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Last week, I never would have imagined i'd be reviewing Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs before Jennifer's Body and The Informant!, and yet, here we are, discussing an animated movie based (loosely) on a beloved book from my childhood. How did this happen? I don't know. But I have no regrets. This is one meteorological disaster movie worthy of close inspection. Not only is it whimsical family fun, it operates as a wholly intact and remarkably effective work of comedy as well. SNL's Bill Hader lends one of his thousands of voices to Flint Lockwood, a bright young inventor with a track record of experiments gone kookily awry and a need to prove himself to his unibrowed father (James Caan) and community. Flint works in a makeshift laboratory built around the tree house of his childhood seeking to solve the world's epidemic of untied shoelaces and searching for a cost effective means of saving his struggling island town from eating sardines for the rest of their foreseeable futures. He invents a device that transforms water into any food imaginable, and after a powerful jolt, accidentally rockets it into the stratosphere. Hence, what would have otherwise been precipitation is not manifesting itself as falling food.

Flint's device is an accidental hit. Through the wonders of satellite technology he can order up food on request. It keeps wannabe weather girl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) on the island, promises to boost tourism, and makes for many a moment of wonder on screen. If handled improperly, the film could easily have lost itself to sight gags and an overwhelming sense of self-deluded grandiosity and syrupyness. However, the cloying moments are practically non-existent. The filmmakers here take on the content with a sparkling wit and imagination that makes the film infectiously fun and, believe it, thoroughly engrossing for its entire 81-minute run time. This is one of those bright, bubbly movies that's perfectly safe for little ones (it snows ice cream!) but has a whole 'nother level of humor adults can appreciate as well (while not over stuffing it with references and allusions that will render the movie obsolete in a few years, i'm looking at you Dreamworks...). There are puns, perfect reactions, and the vocal talent is a who's who of pop cultural cult icons: Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, and Neil Patrick Harris all find places here.
This is Sony's first outing with 3D animation, and certainly qualifies as a success. While it's no Pixar, the characters' expressive capabilities and goofy looks are perfectly suited to the storyline. Meanwhile, the film's humor is underscored by real heart. The messages here are several, but the main one is to be who you are, and if that person is a total brainiac nerd...that's cool, there's a place for you. It's delivery, it should be mentioned, takes place in a Jell-O mold palace complete with bouncing replicas of David and the Venus de Milo.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is an enjoyable romp that mixes genres (from disaster to romantic comedy) with ease and silly sophistication. While it's certainly a far cry from the 1978 book by Judi and Ron Barrett, it captures many of its memorable moments and delivers a charming explanation to the events depicted in Swallow Falls. If you've got a few ounces of imagination and the ability to suspend your disbelief, this is a great little addition in what is shaping up to be a year of surprisingly superior animation.

My main complaint? Not enough meatballs.

4 out of 5.

See all of Wilde.Dash's reviews at Love & Squalor.

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