By Charles Solomon | Animation Scoop September 25, 2013 at 9:00PM
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.