Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Young Flint Lockwood (Max Neuwirth) is a budding inventor whose creations just miss the mark. His mother’s faith in him keeps Flint trying and, older now, he is on the verge of perfecting a machine that turns water into food. But, once again, things go wrong and his latest invention may change the weather and life in Flint’s (Bill Hader) home town of Swallow Falls forever in “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”

Tyro feature directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller adapt the popular illustrated children’s book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, and bring us a genuine for-all-ages family film that is fun and funny. Here is a case where the 3D effect is an integral part of the film and needs to be seen in this format for the best appreciation. The humor infusing the film is intelligent, not juvenile, and makes this an easy one for parents, aunts, uncles and big brothers and sisters (and, me) to watch. I laughed throughout the film (OK, up until the climax which is a bit overblown) and guffawed frequently.

Flint just wants to be liked by everyone and tries really hard to invent things that will help people. His remote control television set, though, has run amok through the town, his monkey translator only makes his primate pet Steve (Neil Patrick Harris) annoying and his ratbirds, well, let’s just say that ratbirds are not a good idea. But, his latest invention will put the town of Swallow Falls on the map and save the ailing sardine town from ruin. All Flint needs is a little bit more electricity to get the water-to-food converter up and running. Unfortunately, he grabs the juice during the town’s unveiling of the Mayor’s (Bruce Campbell) latest inane brainstorm, Sardine Land, and destroys everything.

Then, a funny thing happens. Flint’s machine is launched into the sky where it enters a huge cloud. What are clouds made of? Water, and the invention begins to rain cheeseburgers on the flabbergasted town. Suddenly, Flint becomes what he has always wanted to be: popular. However, his invention mutates in the clouds and, once again, things go awry as mutated, giant food pelts the town. Flint and weathergirl Sam Sparks (Anna Farris), with a little help from her marvelous assistant, Manny (Benjamin Brat), and the now hefty former Baby Brent (Adam Samberg), risk life and limb to save the now named Chewandswallow.

The deft combination of terrific CGI and 3D (“Cloudy,” unlike the fabulous “Up,” needs to be seen in three-dimension format for the full impact) and expert production design make this one of the best  of the year. I mean, cheeseburgers raining down on you from the sky in 3D is pretty cool, never mind a spaghetti and meatball tornado. 3D has matured to be an integral part of the filmmaker’s toolbox and films like “Cloudy,” “Up” and “Coraline” are the terrific finished products.

Voice actors do an excellent job all around with John Hader and Anna Farris both extremely likable as Flint and Sam, who gets her big break reporting raining food. Flint’s father, Tim, is a great visual character and James Caan gives the man nuance, compassion and humor. Benjamin Bratt, in the small but important role as Manny, steals the show every time on screen. He is a real jack-of-all-trades and fearless hero. Bruce Campbell is funny and despicable as the town’s ambitious, gluttonous mayor. Mr. T’s officer Earl Devereaux is fun as the by the rules cop and doting dad.

The look and feel of the production is first rate with great attention to detail, especially the copious amounts of food raining down from the sky. The big rescue climax is a bit overblown but that is easily forgiven in a film that had me gleefully laughing out loud. I’m a sucker for a good kids’ flick and “Cloudy” really delivers the goods. I give it an A-.

Covered on maps by the ‘A’ of ‘Atlantic Ocean,’ Swallow Falls was once an island prosperous because of its sardine industry, but when the world discovered that sardines are super gross, the island became an afterthought.  Young inventor Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader, “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express”) has exasperated his loving, widowed, bait ‘n tackle shop owning dad (voice of James Caan) with his series of creations, but his latest, a machine that rains down delicacies to the sardine-sated masses, makes him a hero.  Until, that is, the machine is overprogrammed to the point of taking over global weather in “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”

This Sony Columbia release, credited to ‘a whole bunch of people,’ is an out-of-left-field charmer on multiple counts.  Terrific use of 3D, beautiful size perspective, a stunning rendering of the ocean and witty character design make it an eyeful, while the script delights with puns, sight gags and pop culture nudge-winks.  This one truly is fun for the whole family.  The vocal cast, which features Anna Faris, Mr. T., Benjamin Bratt,
Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Al Roker and Neil Patrick Harris as the monkey, Steve!, is a delight.  All that raining food begins to get a little bit gross, which, I presume, is the point, and the climax, which features threatening roasted chickens and a great homage to “Terror at 20,000 Feet,” is a tad overblown, but the film wraps with great affection for its characters and should leave you with a smile and a yen for a meatball sub.  B+
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