Based on Judi and Ron Barrett’s 1978 children’s book of the same name, the CG-animated Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs follows aspiring inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) whose latest machine first brings joy to, and then later wreaks havoc on, his beleaguered island community.
The island of Swallow Falls was once the home of the sardine industry — made famous by their native pitchman, or infant, “Baby” Brent (voiced as a has-been adult by Andy Samberg) — until the world realized it didn’t like sardines. Isolated from the rest of the world, the now economically depressed community struggles to survive, and must use sardines in everything they eat. Flint — whose sole companion and “colleague” is the “talking” monkey Steve (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) — wants to change all that with his latest invention: a machine that can turn water into any kind of food imaginable. (The array of food that rains down will undoubtedly leave viewers craving a cheeseburger in the worst way.)
Much to his surprise, and that of visiting weathergirl and potential love interest Sam Sparks (voiced by Anna Faris), Flint’s gizmo actually works! Soon everything from burgers and hot dogs to steaks and ice cream starts raining down on the amazed residents of Swallow Falls. Flint goes from outcast to local hero and community savior, but all he really wants is the respect of his laconic tackle shop owner dad (James Caan) and the love of Sam. But when Flint’s great invention threatens to destroy Swallow Falls, he and Sam must set things right.
The lackluster marketing campaign led me to think this was yet another CG-animated kid’s movie with a sappy story and potty humor that only children could enjoy. I hadn’t read the book as a kid — so far the only person I’ve met who has read it is Andy Samberg — so I went in with zero expectations and was overwhelmed by this thoroughly enjoyable movie. Boasting smart, subversive humor and some of the most impressive 3-D yet seen in an animated feature, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a surprisingly clever and highly entertaining comedy. The writing and direction of Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (best known for exec producing the sitcom How I Met Your Mother) is sharp and engaging, chock full of references to everything from first-person shooter games to Steven Spielberg movies and The Twilight Zone.
There’s malevolent glee to be had in an ice cream snowball fight where no child is safe, or a monkey’s life-or-death battle with a giant Gummy Bear. There’s plenty of verbal wit as well as visual gags, with the voice cast succeeding in making their characters alive and fun. Hader and Faris are the standouts as two nerds who strive to be taken seriously, but Samberg and Bruce Campbell (as the gluttonous, scheming mayor) have plenty of memorable moments. The voice cast also includes Mr. T, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt, Al Roker, Lauren Graham, and Will Forte.
The filmmakers aren’t afraid to push the edge with either the humor or the animation. The movie features a number of splashy, colorful set-pieces, including an avalanche of food that threatens to destroy Swallow Falls and the heroes’ climactic battle set against a backdrop of deadly peanut brittle stalactites. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is silly enough for kids to enjoy, while adults will appreciate the movie’s charmingly oddball characters, sly wit and anarchistic streak. After suffering through a largely bland crop of summer movies, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was exactly the kind of out-of-left field surprise gem you hoped that autumn would bring. Just be sure to catch it in 3-D.