– Summary –
Director : Phil Lord & Christopher Miller.
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : Voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Mr T, Neil Patrick Harris, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Al Roker, Lauren Graham.
Awards : Golden Globe Nomination – Best Animated Film. Annie Awards Nominations – Best Animated Feature, Best Direction, Best Writing, Best Animation, Best Animated Effects.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: Young inventor Flint Lockwood develops a machine that turns water into food. When released into the atmosphere above the tiny island of Swallow Falls, food begins to rain down on the town. Soon, however, the food becomes larger and larger, threatening to destroy not only Swallow Falls but the rest of civilisation as well.
What we think : Clever, funny and supremely well animated, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is great fun for kids and adults alike. About as close to Pixar quality as a different film studio has managed to get in years. Vocally hilarious, with a razor sharp script that is alternately rippingly funny and heartbreakingly emotional, Cloudy manages to make food not only fun, but dangerous too.
It’s been a long time since I was impressed by a computer animated film that didn’t come out of Emeryville. Pixar’s ability to concoct brilliant films that almost transcend the medium seems endless, with the other studios have been playing digital catch-up ever since Toy Story. While Dreamworks may have run Shrek into the ground, and the Ice Age films’ lifespan is starting to thaw like last nights snow, Pixar stay streets ahead with their product. It’s become somewhat passe to expect that non-Pixar films will never live up to our lofty expectations, and so we approach them with indifference. Too many Shark Tales and Madagascars, and not enough Wall-Es. So when I stumbled upon Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, a film I’d seen the trailer for and thought “meh”, and actually got around to watching it, I was more than impressed enough to state right here in the opening that this film is about as close to a Pixar-level animated film as a non-Pixar studio is likely to get. It’s not quite there, but it’s close.
The small island of Swallow Falls, hidden beneath the A on maps showing the Atlantic Ocean, was once known as the sardine producing capital of the US, until it was decided that sardines were “super gross”, and the bottom fell out of the market. In sharp decline, Swallow Falls has become almost a ghost town, or as near to it as possible. Young local lad, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), the son of a local bait and tackle shop owner, is an inventor, who dreams of creating something that will change the world. One day, as Swallow Falls mayor is unleashing his insane idea for Sardine Land (a pastiche of Disney Land, just with… sardines…), Flint is firing up his latest invention, a device capable of turning water into food. Any food. Accidentally launching his machine into the stratosphere, and destroying Sardine Land in the process, Flint is found by New York weathergirl Samantha Sparks (Anna Faris) sulking at the end of a pier. As they discuss their mutual love of science and invention, the food machine starts making it rain cheeseburgers. The obvious monetary gain from this, for a town bereft of financial income, is the catalyst for the once reviled Flint to become something of a local celebrity, as he’s able to control what kind of food the machine makes. However, the more food the machine in the sky produces, the bigger the toxic cloud of radiation it releases gets. Eventually, the size of the portions of food the machine produces become gigantic, to the point of becoming dangerous. Flint soon discovers that the machine has grown out of control, and that food will eventually cover the planets surface. As the hero of the film, you can guess that Flint must fly up to the machine, battle through it’s mutated surroundings and stop it’s catastrophic output before Swallow Falls, and the entire world, is destroyed.
If a film where the main concept is that it rains food seems a little ridiculous to you, then you’ve obviously never read the kids book it’s based on. A charming, cautionary tale (aren’t they all?) that’s told with a sharp eye for humour, as well as a well written mixture of emotional depth, Cloudy Meatballs (which is my personal shorthand for the title of this film, because typing the entire thing each time will give me RSI!) is a true delight. From it’s crazy, zany opening sequences (including a hilarious montage of Flints earlier inventions) and his childhood influences, to the 2001: A Space Odyssey-influenced final act, there’s plenty of yummy goodness to be savoured here. Each time I’ve seen Cloudy, and that’s a number I plant to keep ticking upwards in the future, I’ve spotted something I didn’t notice before, and it only adds to the craziness of it all. Those of you without a sense of humour, including humour derived from seeing food demolish an entire town, will be well advised to steer clear of this movie: the rest of you should see it immediately. The film doesn’t have the most solid story, I’ll admit, but the characters are where the ingredients come together. Notice how I’m trying to get as many food-themed gags in here? Sweet eh? Anyway, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller deserve plaudits for making a single-note story seems as epic and broad spectrum as possible. They’ve crammed a massive dose of modern humour and sight gags, often many at the same time, into the films opening twenty minutes, keeping the audience engaged even if the story wobbles between charming family idiosyncratic and Michael Bay-styled explosion-fest. Indeed, the frenetic opening stanza will appeal to the attention deficit disorder crowd, which probably includes a fair chunk of the under-tens. Adults disinclined to enjoy the Moulin Rouge editing employed here will probably projectile vomit with motion sickness, as Cloudy rips along at a huge rate of knots.
Cloudy is a film with two distinct halves, both of which are eminently enjoyable, both fitting well with the other, while at the same time being different enough to notice. The first half sets up the premise and creates the requisite “pride before the fall” arc, with Flint going from town froot-loop to financial saviour, while the second act ratchets up the tension as things go all pear-shaped and Flint must overcome his own fears to thwart an enemy of his own making. The last half, which is dominated by some superb action film-making, is less about character than it is about looking cool, with some truly amazing animation on display. It doesn’t detract from the quality of the film, but it is a noticeable deviation from the first forty minutes or so.
The characters themselves, which is where the film succeeds brilliantly, are well realised and grounded in a realism (if anything in an animated film can be classed as realism!) that keeps the audience engaged in their plight. Flint, the central character, is downtrodden and often ostracized by his community, and struggles to communicate with his father, after the death of Flint’s mother ten years prior. Flint’s seen as a nuisance, a problem child for which tolerance and acceptance is fast running out. Flints father, Tim (James Caan) is a monosyllabic hulk of a man, his view of the world seen through the fractured windows of the bait and tackle shop, and while Flint harbours a begrudging love for his dad, he feels that he’s being kept back by his fathers insistence that he help in the store. Sam Sparks, the… ahem.. sparky young love interest for Flint, is ably voiced by a perky Anna Faris (from Scary Movie, House Bunny et al), with the feisty attitude most female characters are given in animated films these days: tough and sassy, yet with a feminine sensitivity that has a fair bit to do in the film’s finale. The funniest roles of the film go to Andy Samberg as a former child star turned podgy arrogant wanker, Brad (who was once the face of the main sardine company on the island), and Mr T (yes, Mr T!) as Earl Devereaux, a by-the-book cop with a particular hatred for Flint. An unrecognisable Benjamin Bratt voices Sam Spark’s erstwhile cameraman Manny, a man with more strings to his bow than Robin Hood. Oh, and keep an eye out for Steve, Flints pet monkey with a thought translator attached. Steve’s hil-arious.
According to the Wiki page for this film, directors Lord & Miller wanted to make a film that spoofed disaster films like Armageddon and Twister: as a connoisseur of those kinds of films, I can testify that Cloudy does it brilliantly. Elements of Armageddon, Dante’s Peak, Volcano and various others gently tip their hat to Cloudy, as the script calls for bigger and more destructive moments to occur as it progresses. While never obvious, if you’re looking for it, they’re there to be found. Flint’s laboratory, a mushroom shaped tower in which appears both high and low tech inventions (his sci-fi standard sliding door is actually a curtain, and his turbolift ends up in a porta-loo) is indeed a wonderland of juxtaposition. While he’s unable to invent a proper sliding door, he can still make a machine that turns water into food.
Another of the great things about Cloudy is the musical score from Mark Mothersbaugh, a composer I’ve not really heard of too much, although he’s been around for ages according to his website, and scored a whole slew of projects for TV, film and computer games. Here, he’s given us a wonderfully heroic, mysterious and action packed – it’s like he’s channelled John Williams, Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer, stirred those influences up, and delivered a score replete with braggadocio. I’m going to have to reappraise my feelings towards Mothersbaugh’s body of work, and check it out. The film’s animation is simply breathtaking too, with the food on screen looking as edible as you’d expect: how does a computer make food look so good? I don’t think my mouth stopped watering from about half way through. Everything from fruit and veg, to hotdogs, icecream and pancakes and almost every food substance known to man appears on screen in one form or another, so if you’re on a diet or fasting for whatever reason, you might do best to avoid watching Cloudy this time round. Massive kudos to the computer geeks who made this film as stunningly good to watch as it is.
Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs has very few issues – among the most minor of quibbles is the fact that some of the second tier characters aren’t as well developed as the major ones. This might sound like a little nit-picking, and you’d be right, but in the interests of a fair and balanced review, I simply had to mention the one possible failing of the film-makers here. Regardless, Cloudy is by far one of the most fun animated films to come from a non-Pixar studio since… well, possibly forever. A great story, superb animation and some dynamite vocal work from the cast add up to a real film treat. A definite must-own on BluRay.