Don’t be so quick to write this movie off as conventional kiddie-fare. Smart, beautiful and prescient, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is bound to become an animated classic. It tackles the timely topic of obesity and our insatiable appetite for consumption with grace and wit. The story is adapted from the children’s book of the same title that was originally published in 1978.
Flint (Bill Hader) has been an aspiring inventor his entire life. More often than not, his whimsical inventions go awry, irritating the put-upon inhabitants of Swallow Falls. They have plenty to be irritable about, as they subsist mainly on sardines, the town’s only claim to fame. They understandingly don’t embrace his rat/bird hybrid or other misbegotten inventions. Flint’s father (James Caan), a fisherman, is disgusted that his son doesn’t fall in step and help run his tackle shop. He can’t express himself without using fishing metaphors, and his eyes are hidden behind a bushy unibrow.
One day Flint (who I could swear is modeled after Ted on How I Met Your Mother) is tinkering around in his high-tech laboratory (above his dad’s house) and a glitch in an experiment causes it to rain cheeseburgers over the town. The townspeople are thrilled to have a reprieve from the familiar sardine foodstuff, and promptly hail Flint a hero. Perky meteorologist-in-the making Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) is one of the first reporters to cover the bizarre meteorological event, and she accompanies Flint on his adventures for the duration of the film. Also tagging along is pet monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris) whose thoughts are translated by one of Flint’s inventions.
The initially grateful townsfolk are soon placing unreasonable requests on Flint and his machine, demanding more extravagant menu items, and ignoring warnings that the increased input could cause the machine to mutate the food. Mutate it does, into larger portions, much to the delight of the town’s mayor (Bruce Campbell), who has been relegated to using a scooter due to his burgeoning belly. The greedy mayor leverages the city to pay for a Disney-style resort that revolves around food. Eventually the food so mutates that it threatens to crush the city with a torrential downpour of giant buffet items.
The film takes some clever jabs at pop culture: poking fun at the dreadful “jokes” meteorologists use as a segue from one segment to the next, using celery as smelling salts for a child in a food coma, and pointing out our ridiculous fascination with cat videos on the internet. The over-50 generation and their complete phobia of technology is hilariously put to use for a scene where the survival of the town rests on the ability of Flint’s befuddled father to locate, copy, and send an email. It’s a nail biter, to say the least.
When “baby” Brent (Andy Samberg) inhabits the body of a rotisserie chicken, the ensuing sequence could easily be right at home on Adult Swim. Mr. T has a pretty funny turn as a tight-assed (literally) cop. The virtual cornucopia of foods is perfectly depicted by sumptuous 3-D animation. Visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow filled tubs with jello and dropped food in front of a camera to study what the foods looked like under different circumstances. The payoff is evident in the final product.
A cautionary tale about being careful what you ask for, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs will satisfy appetites of all ages.