Mark Reviews Movies

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS

3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Cast: The voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Al Roker, Lauren Graham

MPAA Rating: PG (for brief mild language)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 9/18/09


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Kids are much smarter than some people give them credit for. They also have a really good sense of the humor in the absurd, although the term "absurd" probably isn't in the vocabulary of the typical kids for whom Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is intended. To them, it's usually called "silliness."

There's plenty of silliness, absurdity, or whatever you want to call it in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a film based on the children's picture book by Judi and Ron Barrett. There's also a decent helping of imagination, a few knowing in-jokes, and a scathing critique of the state of health and wellness in the United States deeply buried under the movie's more-tolerable-to-the-masses but generic theme of "It's ok to be different."

It's also bright (although that brightness is quite diminished if you see it in 3-D), cheery, and at times flat-out hilarious.

Kids' movies, family films, or whatever you want to call them are notorious for focusing on the kids, ignoring the adults who'll more than likely be bringing kids with them, and pandering to both groups with the safety of the mostly harmless. Here, though, is one of the good ones—one that can be appreciated and enjoyed across age boundaries. It's just the two groups will use different terminology to explain why.

Our hero is Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader), a wannabe scientist who has had a stream of failures, ranging from a flying car to a remote-control TV with a mind of its own to the hideously funny (or funnily hideous) genetic mutations he has dubbed rat-birds. The name says it all.

Flint still lives at home with a father (voice of James Caan) who doesn't understand him (and probably can't see him, on account of his eyebrows covering his eyes; the mustache is a bit thick, too), and has a laboratory in the backyard (accessed from a portable lavatory). His lab has a bunch of low-tech versions of high-tech concepts (a curtain for a sliding door), and Flint narrates everything he does with proud declarations ("Button, pushed!").

His newest invention is a device that alters the molecular structure of water to turn H2O into whatever kind of food the user desires. For the town of Swallow falls, which is an island in the middle of the Atlantic that has gone down the tube because its prime export is sardines (which people have universally decided are disgusting), this invention is its potential salvation in Flint's eyes.

Speaking of Flint, there are some very amusing shades of the Michigan city here when the mayor (voice of Bruce Campbell) decides to open a new theme park based entirely around the slimy little fish. It includes a massive build-up to the world's largest sardine, which is about as big as you might imagine it is.

This is the kind of dual-layered humor the film has throughout, where informed adults will find the humor in the Flint allusion while kids will find it in the randomness (read, silliness) of the town's children in a sardine can. I can't imagine either not laughing at the world's largest sardine, though.

Through a horrible miscalculation, Flint's water-to-food machine ends up in the atmosphere, causing it to rain food. The mayor and the town love it, but that pesky Dango-meter keeps climbing slowly into the red.

Along for the ride are Sam Sparks (voice of Anna Faris), a weather channel intern who's exactly what the network looks for in a weather-girl (cute, perky, and nothing else) but is much smarter than she lets on, "Baby" Brent (voice of Andy Samberg), the former local celebrity who adorned the sardine cans and still parades around in a diaper, and Steve (voice of Neil Patrick Harris), Flint's monkey partner who says exactly what's on his one-track mind.

The voice casting bucks the trend of similar animated fare, bypassing the Names and leaving the work to character actors. Hader, Faris, Caan, and Campbell are especially good, and the film even finds a job for Mr. T as the town's suspicious, surprisingly acrobatic police presence.

There's a sweet but predictable love story, a chaos-driven climax through the machine's protective food shell, and the previously mentioned cliché moral of the story that bring the film's momentum to an idle on occasion. Still, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is filled with a barrage of inventive gags and bizarre occurrences that ultimately keep writer/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller's concoction a pleasure.

And I'm still giddily repulsed by or repulsively giddy about the thought of those rat-birds.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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