In having to play for short-attention span kids and increasingly smart - and demanding - adult audiences, modern computer animated films have evolved into some of the sharpest, most involving productions, for all audiences. It's a genre that is not plagued by endless unnecessary remakes, where imagination is not restricted, where pretty-much any actor can unabashedly embrace their character and where you are almost always guaranteed a totally feel-good ending, but one of the distinctly non-syrupy sweet variety. Oh, and they're some of the funniest films around at the moment.
Flint Lockwood has aspired to be a great inventor ever since he was a child, creating the most wild gadgets and gimmicks, and testing them out on his friends and family. Unfortunately, they all - without exception - go wrong, much to the dismay of all around him. He is a mockery, an estranged, super-nerd who lives in his own little world to avoid the real one. Of course the real world around him isn't that pleasant, the little sardine town he lives in plagued by the fact that sardines have gone out of fashion, the townsfolk forced to eat sardines for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Flint's dad just wants him to join the family fish & tackle business, but Flint still has great ideas, great dreams. When his latest gadget is unleashed - a machine that converts water into food - and becomes lodged in the atmosphere, Flint finds he can feed the townspeople whatever their hearts desire, simply by pressing a button and letting it rain down on them. But when the conniving mayor's publicity campaign pushes the machine into overdrive, will Flint be able to stop the food tornadoes from tearing across the whole globe?
Apparently Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is based on a famous children's story-book, but perhaps it is one that is only prevalent in the States, because nobody I know has ever heard of it. Still, the story for the movie has clearly had to be vastly enhanced from its original child picture-book origins, to allow for bigger characters, enable it to play out as a full-length feature, and make it suitable for more than just child audiences. The end result is another in the growing breed of excellent dual-purpose computer animated affairs that have been released recently, like Up and Monsters vs. Aliens. I was massively surprised by Monsters vs. Aliens, which truly set a new standard for the genre, and off the back of that, Cloudy has a tough job to keep up the quality, but it does perform admirably.
Anybody unfamiliar with this kind of production should know that it is far from just a kids' affair. Sure the silly visual antics move along at a breakneck pace, and are sure to keep most kids happy, and the characters themselves are simple fairy-tale offerings, with limited character arcs: the geeky nerd seeking acceptance amidst his peers, the stoic single father who has no idea how to communicate with his son, the loud and tough cop who is just a teddy-bear to his family, and the mischievous mayor whose lies grow with his size. But there's much more going on here, and things which only adults are likely to notice - as if laughing at an entirely different movie. The way the kids' eyes rattle around at light-speed when they gorge on sweets (E-numbers + children = hyper), the way in which the food storms hit all the major landmarks around the globe first (mocking disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow etc.), the trouble the old school dad has trying to work a computer (the command to 'drag the mouse across the desktop' only results in him swiping everything off the table surface), and the way Flint manages to distract his potential love interest for about 3 hours by just playing her a YouTube-style clip of a cat playing a keyboard. Fantastic.
The voice actors work no wonders to bring their parts to life as well, with Superbad's Bill Hader (Seth Rogen's cop partner in the film) going above and beyond to become the ultimate super-geek. Tip-toeing around whilst humming a Mission Impossible-style theme to himself, tapping keypads and making beeping sounds to accompany the button-presses, narrating his own ludicrous gadget-creation montage, he makes for an excellent Flint, even if the character is not a totally endearing one. Despite his antics, the one-dimensional comic character, and his fairly limited character-arc, are not - in and of themselves - wickedly entertaining, and it's only thanks to the rest of the voice cast and characters that things maintain momentum. Anna Faris (Observe and Report) does a perfectly adequate job as the love interest (although this too is pretty predictable and mediocre), but the likes of Mr. T, James Caan (Rollerball) and Bruce Campbell (Bubba Ho-Tep) all bring to the screen some superb supporting characters in the form of a over-enthusiastic cop ('you're just a shenaniganiser!'), a stalwart, old-fashioned dad, and a greedy major, respectively.
Of course, sometimes the cameo segments can be just as funny, with the video camera operator Manny proving to come into his own during the final act, the mutant rat-birds having a mind of their own, and the crazy monkey (who Flint gives a thought translator to) offering up no end of hilarity throughout the proceedings. There's something on offer for everybody, and I'd dare anybody to try and resist laughing at all during the film's duration.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a thoroughly engaging family adventure, yet another computer-animated marvel that boasts all the imaginative, colourful visuals and silly behaviour required to have a kid glued to the screen, all-the-while catering for the older generations who get a smarter subtext and subtle in-jokes to keep them amused and engaged. Quality.
Our Review Ethos