On the whole children’s books make for some excellent source material for computer generated features. And why wouldn’t they? They’re typically cute stories for viewers of all ages rife with bright artwork and laced with some sort of life-lesson for good measure. And such was the reasoning behind Sony Pictures Animation’s 2009 big screen adaptation of the 1978 children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. While the source material was pretty simplistic, Sony managed to scrape quite a memorable and charming tale of what was there. Perhaps due to a wonderful voice ensemble, layers of humor that appealed to kids and adults alike, unique visuals or some combination of the three- the original Cloudy sort of came out of nowhere and managed to dazzle just about all who encountered it thus explaining how it turned its $100-million budget into $243-mil (gross) worldwide.
As is expected in Hollywood, no money-making stone remains unturned and a sequel was all but inevitable and 4-years after the original film, we got Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, which, interestingly opted not to acknowledge the literary sequel (Pickles to Pittsburgh) and instead continue on with the plot, characters and settings established in the first film.
The film actually opens with a brief recap of events taking place in the first movie, mainly that Flint Lockwood's (Bill Hader) FLDSMDFR (Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator) was blown up at the conclusion of the first adventure but apparently wasn’t destroyed in the process. Buried in mountains of uneaten and mostly gigantic food; the citizens if Swallow Falls, though relieved to be alive, are faced with the daunting task of industrial caliber cleanup. Fortunately the United Nations, aware of the fact that almost every city on the planet suffered the consequences of Flint’s invention enlist the aid of revolutionary tech company, Live Corp for the actual cleanup. Flint is awestruck when he discovers his childhood idol; scientific mogul Chester V (Will Forte) is leading the job personally. What’s more- Chester enlists Flint directly to try to track down the rogue food-making machine so as to deactivate it once and for all with a device known as the BS-USB.
Lockwood, his girlfriend Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), dad Tim (James Caan), monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), Baby er I mean Chicken Brent (Andy Samberg), overzealous cop Earl (Terry Crews replacing Mr. T.) and jack-of-all-trades Manny (Benjamin Bratt) travel from their temporary digs in San Franjose back to Swallow Falls which has apparently become overrun by a bizarre race of sentient food/ animal hybrids called, you guessed it: Foodimals.
What results is a pretty whimsical adventure/ expedition piece rather reminiscent of the later Jurassic Park films with heards of stampeding “unnatural” animals, adorable talking fruits, massive gentle giants and puns aplenty littered throughout a tropical jungle where once civilization existed. There’s some good news and bad news in this- The good is that the writers of the sequel had to waste very little time developing their characters this time around as it is a literal continuation of characters (and actors), sets and even circumstances of the first movie. The bad news is lack of character development nips this piece in its proverbial backside almost constantly to the point that the finished product doesn’t feel like a solidly constructed story so much as a series of set-ups and plot devices to simply get the viewer to the next marquee moment. Yes, a lot of these marquee moments are clever, witty, creative and often funny, the problem is they come at the expense of the one thing the first film had in abundance: heart.
Make no mistake, this film manages to hit all of its marks and at times feels perhaps a bit too reformed and revised for its own good. Kids will likely be enthralled with the ridiculously lush color pallet and larger-than-life characters and adults, especially those for a penchant for tongue-in-cheek humor & puns will find many opportunities to giggle as well. In fact that leads me to about my biggest complaint of the piece: when judged on its own merit, it’s 95-minutes of pretty enjoyable and well-presented CG entertainment but it starts to feel a bit contrived and hollow when compared to the original.
On paper all of the pieces for success are present- even some slightly muddled themes of vegetarianism and anti-corporatism and an ending that doesn’t quite offer the scale of resolve that the premise sets up, it’s still pretty tricky to come away from this one without a positive vibe and a few good laughs to boot. And at the end of the day, isn’t that exactly why we watch these types of movies in the first place?
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