'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' was released this year and is based on the 1978 children's novel of the same name (which has undoubtedly enjoyed a meteoric rise in sales during the past four months). This movie has two directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who also co-penned the script. You may recognise the latter from his pretty average directorial debut, 'Shrek the 3rd', while the former cut his teeth on the animated series 'Clone High' (which I have not had the pleasure of viewing). Both have been involved in writing, producing and acting in so-so productions over the years but nothing that's really worth mentioning. Their relative inexperience aside, the undoubtedly creative pair will hopefully fare well with the scope to adapt such a perfect concept (i.e. raining food) for the big screen, especially with today's modern CGI techniques at their disposal. It's worth mentioning that this movie was released in theatres as a 3D feature but this Blu-ray release doesn't even contain a rudimentary 3D option (like 'Coraline').
The cast is at first glance impressive and it seems as though the almost perfect combination of voices for an animated feature has been assembled. Taking the lead as Flint is Bill Hader ('Superbad'). The mighty James Caan ('The Godfather') makes a totally uncharacteristic appearance playing Tim (Flint's dad). The equally mighty (well in my eyes anyway) Bruce Campbell plays Mayor Shelbourne. The mightiest of them all, Mr. T (yes Mr.T!), plays Earl (the only police officer in town). Anna Faris and Andy Samberg also take on lead roles, playing Sam Sparks and 'Baby' Brent respectively and they've both previously starred in a load of old rubbish in comparison to the rest of the stellar cast.
The plot is pretty simplistic. The setting is Swallow Falls, a costal empire built upon its sardine fisheries and canneries. Flint is a resident of this pilchard obsessed community and is still living in his childhood fantasy, which is to someday become the world's greatest scientist (along with his talking monkey assistant). Tim, his long suffering, single parent fisherman father, gently implores his son to give up his foolish dreaming and come work with him at his bait n' tackle business. Unperturbed by his constant scientific failures, Flint finally cracks the big one; a machine that can convert water to any type of food. Needless to say the food machine follows the catastrophic path of all of Flint's other inventions and ends up lodged in the upper stratosphere. One can only guess what happens next.....
I have to admit that this movie really didn't gel with me at all. Sure it's pretty to look at and at times its jaw droppingly beautiful but as an adult I require something more than aesthetics when it comes to movies. This is where 'Meatballs' fails miserably. There is no characterisation worth mentioning, the plot is as shallow as an inflatable paddling pool and the comedy is somewhat hit and miss. I think this rather harsh outlook stems from the fact that I watched 'Up' for the first time (it being this movies main contender for animated movie of the year) a couple of days before this one. Every year that Pixar releases a big animated feature, Sony, Dreamworks or another studio decide to compete. Every year Pixar wins this battle and it's simply because their movies are superior in every sense of the word. There was not one point during this movie that I got a shiver of excitement (like when Carl's Frederickson's house triumphantly takes flight) and the characters were pretty much instantly forgettable. The tone of the comedy varies throughout and although there are a few pretty funny scenes, the majority of the comedic elements are repetitive and juvenile. There are also a few moments where the movie tries desperately hard to appear warm and touching but it just ends up feeling horribly clichéd and contrived; such as the completely overdone message of “be yourself, no matter what others think of you”.
While the majority of cast do a good job providing the voices, they are just not adept at instilling any life into their computer generated counterparts. Hader and Faris do have some amusing moments but witnessing Flint providing his own sound effects or Sam “tee-heeing” for the third or fourth time dilutes the comedy effect. Andy Samberg is pretty good playing 'Baby' Bret but it's only because his character is such a moron. Even Bruce Campbell's mayor was too similar to Mayor Adam West from 'Family Guy' for my liking. The talking monkey relied on one or two running gags to justify his character and he sadly didn't do it for me, much and all as I tried to like him. Mr. T and James Caan are the exceptions but I don't think I could ever tire of listening to their voices. I have to say that I feel as though the script is to blame for my poor opinion of this movie as it's just too weak and doesn't have enough laughs to hold it together. Sure, it's mindless fun and the kids will absolutely love its hectic pace but there are far more appealing releases out there (on BD) that look equally as good and also offer a whole lot more in the way of substance.
One aspect of the movie that shines through is the stunning animation. When the first hamburger falls from the sky it's as though real food is raining from the heavens. The variation of foodstuffs is mind boggling, with everything from spaghetti to prawns forecast to fall. The colouration of the piece is also incredibly varied, with the beautifully rendered thunder-food-storms and sunsets ranking up there with some of most impressive scenes I have ever seen on an animated feature. The direction from Lord and Miller is surprisingly good and they include plenty of camera transitions and inventive use of the easily manipulated world of animation to assist the breakneck pace. They have also opted for a much simpler cartoon styled feature that seems to place all of its creative chips on the “animated food” aspect, which undoubtedly is a winner. They have infused the movie with a delightful score from Mark Mothersbaugh which, in conjunction with the animation, comprises some of the best bits of the movie.
I have to say that I was a little let down with this release as I had heard such good things about it. Although there are moments when the quirky and offbeat humour reminded me of some of my favourite animations (such as 'Ren and Stimpy'), it seems as though the studio executives (and ratings board) just prevented this movie from crossing over the invisible line of what's acceptable for children, which also prevents it from becoming accessible to kids of all ages. 'Meatballs' works best when it descends into chaos, with enormous foodstuffs crashing all around and the population of Sardine Falls scramble to save their lives. Although great fun, this obviously cannot sustain the movie for the duration of its runtime (no matter how hard it tries) and the remainder of what this movie offers don't make up the shortfall. That being said, I'm sure that the slapstick elements and the manic rushing around of all the primary characters will be a hit with the intended audience; however, I firmly believe that some of the more offbeat elements could be lost on the under tens though. Even though the movie didn't really do it for me I am nonetheless disappointed that I did not get the chance to view this movie in 3D as some of the scenes would have looked absolutely stunning and were clearly engineered to maximise the 3D experience. So, all in all we've got a pretty average movie that contains enough eye candy and laughs to keep adults mildly entertained for the run time but repeated viewings are definitely not advised. Two years ago, this movie could have been top of the food chain but it today's aggressive animation market it falls short of top marks.
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