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REVIEW: "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2"

by Charles Solomon
September 25, 2013 9:00 PM
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A regrettable mishmash of twitchy animation, underdeveloped story, overwrought designs and poor direction, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 continues this summer’s string of bad animated features.

The original Cloudy (2009) didn't exactly cry out for sequel, but the new film picks up where first left off. The food storm has ended, and the inhabitants of Swallow Falls are evacuated from their island home to a San Francisco-esque city while a clean up takes place. Flint Lockwood (voice by Bill Hader) joins the Live Corp Company, a firm that hires inventors but produces food bars. It’s run by the TV star who was Flint’s childhood hero, scientist Chester V (Will Forte).

Chester is presented as a something of a spoof of the late Steve Jobs. He greets people with "Namaste" and pitches the glorious future his products and his brilliance promise. Apple culture might be ripe for a send-up, but the gimmick comes across as tasteless. Worse, it’s crashingly unfunny.

The Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator (or FLDSMDFR), the machine that produced the rain of food, has started turning out animal-food hybrids for reasons that are never adequately explained. Chester sends Flint to stop the machine, telling him the monsters want to destroy the Statue of Liberty. Although the assignment is supposed to be secret, Flint brings along all his dubious pals: meteorologist Samantha Sparks (Anna Faris), doofus Brent McHale (Andy Samberg), Steve the monkey (a wasted Neal Patrick Harris), chest hair-obsessed cop Earl Devereaux (Terry Crews, replacing Mr. T) and Flint’s fisherman-father Tim (James Caan). Overseeing the mission is Chester’s assistant, Barb (Kristen Schaal), an orangutan with a boosted IQ,  who has nothing to do until she serves a simian ex machina.

Flint and his chums discover the food-animals aren't out to destroy Lady Liberty or take over the world. They’re nice and even cute. Chester V is actually a bad guy who’s just out to make money. Why "Live" is (gasp) "evil" spelled backwards! Flint and his friends rally the food-animals and defeat Chester with the help of Barb, who undergoes a last minute change in loyalty because her boss calls her a monkey, rather than an ape.

Cloudy 2 borrows heavily and, sometimes shamelessly, from Jurassic Park 2, Avatar, How to Train Your Dragon, The Matrix 2 and Despicable Me. There are a few clever bits involving the food-creatures, including giant scallions that arch their stalks like the necks of the sauropod dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. But even that shot is badly framed, and what should be a hilarious reveal is just another cluttered scene. The pickles that join Tim turns into warty green versions of the Minions from Despicable Me. Sam befriends a giant cheeseburger-spider in a scene lifted directly from How to Train Your Dragon, but less skillfully staged. 

Directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn never give the viewer's eye a place to focus. The frame seems to overflow with details that contribute nothing to the story, but prove that computers can render zillions of little shapes and colors. The mountains of rock candy that surround the FLDSMDFR sparkle, reflect and refract - and keep the audience from following the story point. The scenes are so needlessly cluttered that when Steve sets off party bomb that splatters everything with splotches of Day-Glo color, it doesn't have much effect because there’s already too much color on the screen. 

When Brad Bird pushed the computer animation of humans in a cartoonier direction in the Incredibles, other studios followed suit. But Cloudy veers off in a weird direction. In some scene, the characters limbs snap and wriggle like jump ropes. In the late 20's/early 30's, the Fleischer artists used rubbery movements for the bizarrely drawn characters. Koko and Betty Boop were "made of pen and ink" and didn't pretend to imitate reality. The outre style simply doesn't work in the solid, dimensional world of CG, especially when the characters have realistically rendered hair and textured clothes.

After reviewing this year's often disappointing box office tallies, some pundits have begun asking whether there’s a glut of CG animated films on the market.

Yet Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3 is probably already in the works.

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  • Jake | August 5, 2014 3:05 PMReply

    It's King Kong, not how to train your dragon you mongheads.
    And you missed out the most obvious ripoffs: King Kong when they reach the island, and Star Wars (princess leia and Luke scene).

  • Adam | September 30, 2013 2:49 PMReply

    Wow, Charles, I think you saw a different movie than me. The theater I was in had a raucously good time, with constant laughter, and "oohs" and "ahhs" from the animation geeks. The noodle-y animation was fun, funny, and something completely different than the more-and-more realistic look that the competing studios keep to be striving for. It felt fresh.

    Many of the things you claim are rip-offs of other movies were clearly intentional parodies, and received laughs among my crowd. Just as Cloudy 1 was an homage to disaster movies and referenced many of them, Cloudy 2 was plainly an homage to the island-of-monsters/Jurassic Park genre. Your review unfairly makes it sound like the directors stole shamelessly to dupe the audience, rather than going for overt allusions. I.e., the How To Train Your Dragon moment of placing a hand on the creature's face -- which got a huge knowing laugh in my theater.

    And regarding your argument about framing: I, for one, appreciated that not every creature had a "reveal" like you wanted for the scallions. That feels like old-fashioned, spoon-fed direction for old people. Modern audiences appreciate having to see the movie many times to see what they missed, find background gags and subtle touches. I can't wait to see it again, just for this reason.

    To each their own, I guess. But I didn't want readers of this site to think that this was a bad movie based on this review. I found it smart and funny.

  • Toonio | September 25, 2013 10:18 PMReply

    Sony REALLY has to re-think their animation division as either an improved run out of the mill it currently is or a creative venture it's never been.

    Their internal cannibalism and left brain approach to animation seem to wear off even the most pure and creative ideas like the ones you find on the cloudy book.

    Hope the executive directors at Sony really consider divesting their animation division to people with the creative push mind set and not the turn up a quick buck mind set they currently have.

  • Elana | September 25, 2013 10:03 PMReply

    It's a shame because the original book is so cute.

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