Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) / Animation-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG for brief mild language
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast (voices): Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Mr. T, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Al Roker, Lauren Graham, Will Forte
Small role (voice): Laraine Newman
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Screenplay: Phil Lord, Chris Miller (based on the book written by Judi Barnett and illustrated by Ron Barnett)
Review published September 23, 2013

Silly title, but quite a funny family movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs benefits from a wickedly offbeat sense of humor, great comedic timing, and a cast of characters that are not only likeable, they're also all quite amusing as well. Though its origin loosely comes from a three-decades-old book for kids, the original wit in the script, as well as the cavalcade of sight gags, will likely be appreciated by young and old alike.

Bill Hader (Year One, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) voices Flint Lockwood, a burgeoning inventor who specializes in ingenious but highly needless contraptions that most of his neighbors in their Atlantic Ocean fishing town of Swallow Falls think are a joke (spray-on shoes, a monkey-thought translator device, etc.). His father Tim (Caan, Get Smart) agrees that he's also wasting his time, thinking he should get serious and help him run the family bait & tackle store. However, the city they live in has only one commodity, sardines. Alas, they just aren't selling like they used to, and the mayor (Campbell, Spider-Man 3) wants to convert the island's industry to tourism in order to drum up more business.

Flint's latest invention seems to have the solution to the town's multitude of problems when he comes up with a hi-tech work of genius -- a machine that turns water into any kind of food imaginable. With a satellite in the sky to convert rain into meals, the city now has not only plenty of non-sardine cuisine to choose from, but people from all over the world want to travel to the town, now sporting the newly dubbed name of 'Chew and Swallow', to experience the unique phenomenon after an intrepid weather channel reporter named Sam Sparks (Faris, Observe and Report) covers the big news. However, no matter how much of a success Flint becomes, he still isn't able to win over respect from his dear old dad, especially when the town grows too big for its britches (in the mayor's case, quite literally), and Flint finds that what goes up must come down...and down, and down, and down.

Solid celebrity voice work is a true asset, with Hader and Faris working very well together in their semi-romantic banter. Like Hader, Bruce Campbell is also a great talent who is known for his use of voice in order to get laughs. The movie's biggest vocal surprise is Mr. T (DC Cab), whose character jokingly has something of a reverse Mohawk. T gets a wonderful role as the tough-as-nails cop, Earl Devereaux, whose loving interactions with his son are a constant reflection to Flint of his own strained relationship with his own father.

At only 90 minutes, the film doesn't do what so many animated films tend to do, which is overstay its welcome by throwing needless supporting characters at you for easy, cheesy laughs. However, most of the momentum is achieved in the first hour, as the final half hour involves a great deal of energetic action that is not quite as amusing whereby the amount of dialogue dwindles in an effort to dazzle with the 3D effects. It manages to stay on the rails, but it is quite a rickety ride to the finish. Luckily, the entertainment quotient has been sufficiently met, and we are invested in the plight of these characters we've come to know and like.

Though it primarily is a vehicle built on entertainment, Cloudy does have some serious underlying themes regarding how society can labor through overconsumption, and food can definitely be detrimental to the human body through having to eat bigger portions (nearly all of the food the people crave is junk).  There is even some commentary on the how looks-obsessed the news has become, in an especially funny scene in which the weather channel's anchor, brilliantly cast with Al Roker's voice, can't see beyond Sam's "unflattering" wearing of eyeglasses to comment on the incredible news story she is delivering.  But don't go into this thinking it's going to be a heavy-handed message film like Wall-E, as Cloudy's tone lives up to its name by staying light and fluffy thoughout.

With a great deal of imagination and a very high share of laughs that will please adults and kids in nearly equal measure, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs emerges as one of the best CGI animated features without Pixar above the name.  It's snappy, but eschews the barrage of pop-culture references, which should give it legs in terms of entertainment well beyond the here and now.

-- Followed by Cloudy with the Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo