What’s this? A deliciously witty, wildly imaginative and visually spectacular 3D animated film that’s not by Pixar studios!? How did this happen?
Sony Pictures Animation showed promise with 2007’s Surf’s Up, but nobody could have forecast the rare gem that is Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. It will delight the whole family from first frame to last, indulging the audience with an infectious vitality and a constant flow of super-sized laughs. Come next year’s Academy Awards, Cloudy might have just what it takes to rain on Up’s parade.
The secret source is Judi Barrett’s 1978 children’s book of the same name, which writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have skilfully elaborated on. Their adaptation tells the story of wannabe inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), who has a habit of inventing things that backfire: spray on shoes that never come off, a TV with legs that runs away, and most hilariously, a horde of flying rats (do I really need to elaborate on why that went wrong?!). In his makeshift lab – where the faux security keypad is the classic electronic memory game Simon – Flint is ready to test out his latest and greatest invention: a machine that turns water into food. It’s just what his isolated fishing township of Swallow Falls needs, as their famous sardine-packing business has fallen on hard times since everyone has realised the small, slimy fish are “gross”. More importantly to Flint, the invention is his chance to prove something to his hard-headed father, who thinks he should be working at his fish tackle shop and stop wasting his days as a nerdy recluse.
At the unveiling of kids amusement park Sardine Land, the power-hungry Mayor’s (Bruce Campbell) latest bid to attract tourism to the ailing fishing community, Flint activates his machine only for it to rocket into the clouds, leaving behind a path of destruction. Flint goes from being the village idiot to the town’s saviour when cheeseburgers subsequently start falling from the sky, attracting media attention from cute-but-also-nerdy news intern Sam Sparks (Anna Faris). But before long, the cuisine-bearing clouds prove to be more trouble than they’re worth when the portion sizes start to increase uncontrollably.
The food apocalypse ensues, and much like Roland Emmerich’s recent world-ender 2012, the result is fun-loving parody of the disaster genre. The film is ripe with both verbal and visual humour that works on multiple levels; ceaseless sight-gags will provoke hearty chuckles from children of all ages, while the punchy dialogue is dripping with inoffensive adult humour that will keep mum and dad entertained. Particularly during the madcap final act, Cloudy runs dangerously close to being a headache-inducing visual overload. But since the film only lasts 90 minutes, such relentless energy doesn’t get a chance to overstay its welcome.
The voices of Bill Hader as Flint and Anna Farris as Sam make for charming protagonists, each highly expressive in their delivery, but never grating. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is the slew of wonderful auxiliary characters. There’s the constantly on-edge policeman with superhuman tendencies (hysterically voiced by Mr T.), ‘Baby’ Brent (Andy Samberg) looking to reclaim his former glory as the Sardine factory’s poster-child and Flint’s monotone, monobrowed father (James Caan) who needs a thought translator to be able to tell his son that he loves him. The oh-so-relatable father/son dynamic is just one of the many clever subtexts in the film, appearing alongside valuable life lessons such as ‘everything in moderation’ and ‘always believe in yourself’.
With a premise that sees mountains of food fall from the high heavens, this is a film made to be seen on the biggest screen you can find. I’ve been a sceptic of 3D films for a while now, but after seeing both this and Up in Real-D, I’m now a believer. In the right hands (and I stress this point), the technology has proven that it’s more than just a gimmick, as Sony Pictures Animation have utilised 3D to provide their colourful visuals extra definition and depth. Don’t, however, think that the third dimension is necessary to enjoy this film, as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs will delight the senses regardless of how it’s served.