Monday, September 21, 2009

Love: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Last week, I never would have guessed i'd be reviewing Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs before Jennifer's Body and The Informant!.  Now, 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 Cloudy whimsical family fun, it also operates as a wholly intact and remarkably effective work of legitimate comedy as well. SNL's fabulous 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). 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 your usual H2O precipitation begins 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 juvenile sight gags and an overwhelming sense of self-deluded grandiosity and syrupyness. However, the cloying moments are amazingly 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. 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, well-timed reaction 'shots', and the vocal talent of 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 it's definitely 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 'family film' 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.  Its 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 illustrated in that classic piece of kiddie lit. 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.

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