Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Check it's a computer-animated movie that is not from Disney-Pixar or Dreamworks Animation!  How novel!  Personally, I love me some Pixar films, but tend to have lukewarm reactions to the more jokey and shallow Dreamworks pictures; I have never seen anything from Sony Pictures Animation, though.  How will it stack up? 

Like the children's book of the same name that the movie is based on, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is set in the island city of Swallow Falls, which is located in under the "A" in "Atlantic Ocean" on maps.  That seems like an awfully flexible location to me, but whatever; the important thing to point out is that this story takes place in a foreign land, but everyone speaks like normal Americans!
"...and finally, we will subvert the youth of America by showing how rad Not-America is, what with all the raining spaghetti and whatnot."
Swallow Falls (which sounds vaguely pornographic) was once the sardine capital of the world, but suffered a huge economic depression when the rest of the world figured out that sardines were "super gross."  For years now, the island has been forced to eat almost nothing but sardines and reminisce about the days when they used to be a special place.  Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) has always wanted to do something special and spectacular through science, but he has, almost without exception, only met with failure when it comes to his inventions.  Flint's newest invention, the FLDSMDFR (Flint Lockwood's Diatomic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator) has the theoretic ability to turn water into whatever food you want.  Unfortunately, it requires a lot of power, more than his home can provide.  What does he do?  Naturally, he tries to connect it to the town's power source.  With his history of disastrous inventions, though, he has to do this on the sly, while everyone in town is attending the grand unveiling of Sardine Land, the mayor's newest attempt to revive the island economy.  Flint manages to hook the FLDSMDFR up, but it absorbs too much energy and goes wild, destroying Sardine Land and rocketing into the stratosphere.  The town is mightily angry at Flint, except for his technophobic father (James Caan), who is just disappointed with his weird kid.  But then, the oddest thing starts to rain cheeseburgers.  Will this finally make Flint a hero, or is something worse on the horizon?  Should Flint be true to his inventing self, or should he travel the well-worn path?  Will being famous finally win Flint his father's admiration and respect?  It's important to ask these questions, because some kid's movies skimp out on their morals.

Since I'm unfamiliar with Sony Pictures Animation, I'll start by commenting on how the movie looks.  Um, it looks fine.  That was easy.  I like that they went with more cartoony character designs than we've been seeing in most animated movies lately; there's a lot of extremely tall/short and thin/thick combinations going on here, so it's fun seeing a company that is willing to have fun with the designs of its human characters for a change.  Aside from that, this has all the polish that you would expect from a computer animated film that cost about $100 million to make.
Oh, sure.  When it rains cheeseburgers in this movie, they look like the Whoppers from commercials.  If I made it rain burgers, they would look like the crap I get in the drive-thru.
As is the style of the time, Cloudy... boasts an impressive cast of voice actors.  The two stars are Bill Hader and Anna Faris (who plays his love interest and learns that women can be smart, too!  Tee-hee!), and they're certainly likable enough.  James Caan does a good job as Flint's gruff, Oasis-eyebrowed father.
"Cuz after're my wunderwaaaaaallll..."
I thought casting Bruce Campbell (who is one of the criminally underused voice talents in the industry) as the mayor of Swallow Falls was a great choice.  He's not a huge character, but Campbell does great work with supporting characters that are full of themselves.  Mr. T had a small role as a local police officer, and --- aside from his typical vocal stylings --- I was surprised at how well he delivered some of the more tender lines in the film.  It was bizarre, though, at how underused some of the celebrity talent was in this movie.  Benjamin Bratt had only a couple lines as a cameraman/doctor/pilot, Neil Patrick Harris was cast as a monkey that talks through a Speak and Spell (brilliant idea) but his lines are dull, and I can barely remember Will Forte's contribution to the movie.  For the record, Andy Samberg still isn't funny, even animated.

So, how does the movie hold up?  I have to admit, the first half is pretty cute.  The pace is quick, the humor is story- and character-based, and it sets up the protagonists to win audiences over.  Who doesn't want the girl who is ashamed of her brains to build up some confidence, or the nerd who always fails to finally do something right?  And if the second half of the film built upon that base, this could have been a great movie.  It doesn't.  Once the food starts raining, things just get random.  I understand that, in this post-Family Guy world, random humor is fairly popular now, but the second half of the movie feels cheap in comparison to the rest.  The gags are mostly visual or based on annoying characters.  The one saving grace the second half contains is a surprisingly touching speech from Flint's dad.  I guess it all boils down to this: do you actually care about these characters as the film ends?  For me, the answer is "no."  While I support the Danica McKellar model for intelligence in pretty girls, I found Anna Faris' character to be kind of weenie-ish, and her transformation to girl-empowered was nothing special.  Flint is flawed, which I like, but either through the writing or Bill Hader's voice acting, his troubles all seemed superficial to me.  None of the supporting cast stuck out enough to salvage this movie as comic relief, which makes the misuse of a talking monkey all the more tragic.
How do you misuse this?!?

If you're wondering if children will enjoy watching this movie, the answer is yes.  Kids will watch almost anything, and this is a movie that aims for the ADD crowd.  It is definitely random, but occasionally funny.  If you're looking for something light and inconsequential, there are worse choices than this effort by co-writers/co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.  I just wasn't impressed.  The characters were shallow or painfully obvious, the film's talent was assigned to seemingly random roles, and the story gives way to repetitious silliness for the last 40 minutes or so.  On the other hand, if you want to see a movie with people eating food off the ground, I can't think of a better choice, because the others are probably fetish videos.

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