CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 Review

Back in 2009 I walked, unsuspecting, into an IMAX theater on a rainy, early morning looking to fill my day with nothing but pure escapism and hopefully a little fun. It was a weekday and no one else was in the theater and so I sat in what I could most accurately pinpoint as the center of this massive room and kicked back in front of the largest screen my state has to offer to watch an animated film. I had no expectations, but I was beginning to attempt to see as many films as possible so I could write about them regularly and though I hadn't heard much about this smaller, but impressively cast flick I was excited because the great Bill Hader was getting a leading role and I'd heard good things about the source material it came from. Needless to say, I came out of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs having done nothing short of escaping the dreary day outside and getting wrapped up in the story of Flint Lockwood and Swallow Falls. Not only had the film provided gorgeous animation to drench the world and its creations in, but it was relentlessly funny. I laughed from beginning to end. Directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord (21 Jump Street) had given the film a quirky sense of humor and a pacing that never allowed the audience to get hung up on anything they didn't want them too, keeping the focus on Flint and his invention while littering this world with interesting and funny supporting characters that added layers and layers of, well, character. Once again, needless to say, I was slightly worried when they announced a sequel, but not because I wasn't interested in the further adventures of Flint and his gang, but because Miller and Lord wouldn't be returning to the directors chairs and what set the film apart from the rest of the pack was its off-brand of humor and break-neck pacing that matched its protagonists energy. Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn do well to take notes from their predecessors though as they allow Cloudy 2 to pick up the comedic end of the stick and run with it while delivering all the food puns you could ever hope to enjoy. In a year filled with sub-par animated features, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 stands to be the funniest and most enjoyable trip of the year.

From Left: Manny (Benjamin Bratt), Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), Earl (Terry Crews), Flint (Bill Hader), Barry (Cody Cameron), Sam (Anna Faris) and Brent (Andy Samberg).
If you missed the events of the first film and wander into this one unsure of what to expect there is no need to fear as the first few minutes catch us up on the debacle Flint (Hader) caused in the first film when his invention, affectionately referred to over and over with varying degrees of success as the "FLDSMDFR", went haywire and started raining food. We are then dropped right back into the moment following those events as the citizens of Swallow Falls are trying to figure out what to do to take care of their home and the food that has engulfed it. Enter the arrival of new character Chester V (the hilarious Will Forte) a scientist Flint has looked up to his entire life and who has apparently been commissioned by the government to help clean up the mess Flint has caused on his home island. Chester informs the citizens of Swallow Falls that he will need to momentarily re-locate them to the mainland while his crew does their jobs, but that they will return to their homes soon. Flint and his gang are eager to get back to their homes and start fresh, especially Flint and Sam (Anna Faris), but Chester V has a set of plans all his own. Chester offers Flint the opportunity of a lifetime when he gives Flint the choice to work for his Live Corp Company and possibly even become among the elite inventors that have their creations chosen to help better the human race. Things don't necessarily work out for Flint the way he expected, but when he is asked to go back to Swallow Falls by Chester V himself to locate his FLDSMDFR and turn it off as it is now creating humanoid-like beings out of the food it's producing Flint jumps at the chance and brings his friends, including Sam, his father Tim (James Caan), Officer Earl (Terry Crews), Brent (Andy Samberg), camera man Manny (Benjamin Bratt) and of course his trusty sidekick Steve the monkey (Neil Patrick Harris), along on the ride to find his machine and stop these food-animals before they figure out how to leave the island and attack the mainland.

While the story falls comfortably into conventions that allow older audience members to know exactly where this is all going well before hand it doesn't take away from the enjoyment of seeing it all play out as it is all so beautifully rendered and filled with inventive creatures and hilarious dialogue. What this follow-up lacks in cleverness when compared to the first film seems purely due to the fact it doesn't have a starting point to shoot from as that film did. The first was allowed the opportunity to introduce us to each of these characters and set-up the world they exist in while getting us involved in the thick of the plot. This one, while advancing the relationships between the characters doesn't have all the "busy work" to keep things moving when the plot fails to fill every second of the running time. This is hardly a concern though as I found this to be the same case as with most middle installments, the opportunity for the filmmakers to flourish because they see it as an advantage not to have so much expository information to cover or storylines to wrap up as if this were a third or closing installment. To these advantages Cameron and Pearn turn towards their sense of humor and the inventive opportunities the world that's been created for them has now afforded them. Upon entering the newly inhabited Swallow Falls we are presented with a buffet of both cleverly designed characters and imaginative names that mesh together the worlds of food and animals in ways that will not only have the children laughing at the silliness of seeing their favorite animals made up from their favorite foods, but give the adults reason to appreciate a film that so intelligently blurs the lines between how and why both kids and their parents can laugh at the same things while coming from two different perspectives. This edge, combined with the pure energy the film contains and its consistent pacing afford spectators what feels like an all too brief, but entertaining ride that turns out few shortcomings and delivers on the promise of funny food jokes and morally upstanding lessons we can all learn something from.

Flint and his gang make their way cautiously through the newly inhabited Swallow Falls.
Through all of this though, I would be remiss if I didn't try to stop and simply break down the moments that I found so personally enjoyable about this experience. Yes, I think the movie does well to deliver the intentionally goofy humor that has marked this series and I enjoyed anticipating what food/animal creation might pop up next and what their name might be, but what this all really comes down to is how much we enjoy the company of the characters we're following on this adventure and that is where Cloudy 2 succeeds the most in my books. Not only does Flint have a lovable level of aspiration that always makes us root for him to achieve his goals, but even his friends are each given definitive characteristics that have us rooting for them to stay together and for them to overcome whatever odds might present themselves whether it be Chester V or simply the evolution of their lives. Once again, the relationship between Sam and Flint doesn't take over the narrative (again, refreshing) but Sam still has plenty to do and is involved in the story just enough that we know it wouldn't be the same without her presence or influence. The same can be said for both Officer Earl and Flint's father, Tim. I especially adore the relationship dynamics writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein delivered between father and son here as it is the backbone for which Flint goes forth and makes his decisions on, he always looks back and wonders how proud his parents would be. The film discusses the difference in trusting those who have become your closest friends in life and trusting those you have idolized and the difference in the relationships even if you'd like to think your idols could potentially be your best friends, but as the film went on and the gang gets to know the truth about these new creatures inhabiting their home as well as the true intentions of Mr. V, it also began to seem a slight cautionary tale of how much of animals we've become in out own right. Yes, I'm saying in many ways I got the vibe that the film wants us all to be vegetarians as it put cute faces on food items that will never be alive because to put faces on meat would simply be to animate a cow or pig. It is a sly bit of detail, but one we can't help but decipher as the film comes to a close. Will I quit eating meat? Probably not, but will I continue to enjoy the Cloudy films should they make more? I have no doubt for they are not scourging the audience, but making us think while bombarding us with creativity and color.