Retro Review – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) wanted to be a world famous inventor since he was a child; he has invented a monkey thought translator, spray on shoes and a flying car, all with varying degrees of success. Now, his latest invention is surely his greatest yet; a machine that turns water into food. When he activates the machine, however, it shoots into the clouds, turning rain into hamburgers, steaks and ice cream. This is all well and good, and makes the tiny island of Swallow Falls very famous, but when the machine becomes unstable, the entire world comes under threat…

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was released in 2009, and was one of those rare animated films that seemed a little silly, but was just silly and charming enough to work. The entire voice cast – including Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg and Mr T – work well together, and do a great job of conveying the silliness of the situation, as well as hope, fear, joy and the entire gamut of emotions. Hader makes Lockwood a person who has never given up on his dreams, even when they get slightly out of hand, Anna Faris makes Sam Sparks plucky and smart, while knowing that brains never got a weather girl anywhere, and Mr T. is fantastically over the top as police officer Earl Devereaux.

The story is based on a book by Judi and Ron Barrett, and while the idea is the same as the book – food raining from the sky – screenwriters and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller appear to have been inspired by the great disaster movies, as the film incorporates nods to Twister, Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow and many others. Lord and Miller have created plucky and feisty characters who are willing to fight for what’s right, who must also juggle the shifting dynamics of relationships – father and son, new romance, friendship – while also trying to walk through ice cream snowdrifts and swim through pools of jelly. It’s a rather odd combination, but careful scripting, smart slapstick and a host of brilliant supporting characters – not least Steve the monkey – make the oddness work.

Visually, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is not going for photorealism; instead the film operates on the heightened end of the visual scale; men are square bodied and women are more willowy, noses are almost always large and fingers are squared off at the ends. As well as this, the food looks slightly more colourful than it does in real life, lending the entire film a sense of heightened reality and silliness. That said, the visuals work for the film and reinforce characters and scale.

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller ramp up the slapstick and the silly, while adding montages of Flint working out his plans and narrating what he is doing. The love story feels a little tacked on at times, but it is never overblown, and Sam Sparks is a sweet character, so this is forgiveable.

In all, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a sweet and silly film for kids, with some ridiculousness thrown in for the adults; Steve the mokey is a standout. Supporting characters and ‘extras’ often steal the show, but this just adds a layer of caramel sauce to the sweet sundae of the film.

Rating: 4/5

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