In the realm of unforeseen cinematic surprises, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is nothing short of a delight. Judging it solely against other CG titles that have come out recently, you'd expect the same old thing: stunt voice casting randomly inserting a bunch of recycled pop culture quips into a narrative so scattered it could use some celluloid Ritalin. In other words, all flash and no real family film value. However, just like Kung Fu Panda last year, the creators behind this exciting, exuberant adventure -- writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller -- defy expectations while delivering one of the best non-Pixar animated titles ever. Article continues below
Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) has always dreamed of being an important inventor. Unfortunately, every one of his oddball contraptions (spray-on shoes?) fails miserably. Desperate to find another type of food other than sardines for his small island town of Swallow Falls, he creates a machine that turns water into food. While his father (James Caan) thinks it's another in a long line of disasters, Flint is confident it will work.
When it does, causing hamburgers to rain from the sky, things change dramatically in the isolated little burg. The conniving mayor (Bruce Campbell) wants to use the machine as a way of drawing tourists, while intern turned interim weather reporter Samantha Sparks (Anna Faris) sees it as a ticket to TV stardom. As local law enforcement chief Earl Devereaux (Mr. T) looks on, the town changes its name to Chewandswallow, and prepares for a massive influx of visitors. However, a fault in Flint's device threatens to destroy the entire planet, turning a once beneficial buffet into deadly dishes of destruction.
Formulated as a spoof of famous disaster films and executed with plenty of wit and artistic invention, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a terrific cartoon treat. While fans of the famous book upon which it is based may not be happy with the liberties taken, former Clone High creators Lord and Miller mine the entire Irwin Allen/Roland Emmerich school of spectacle to take their Looney Tunes-inspired spoof to new heights of irreverence. With unusual character design and 3D gimmickry in place (the overused visual trick actually works well here) kids will be instantly mesmerized while adults will appreciate the likeability and level of wit.
One look at the voice cast (Mr. T? Bruce Campbell?) should indicate Lord and Miller's intent. They are not out to bask in the glory of some slumming superstar. They don't want their story's success to rest solely on an actor's commercial credits. Instead, they craft a completely believable action adventure with foodstuffs replacing meteorites and rogue asteroids and then populate the tale with interesting individuals who we identify with and cheer for. Hader's reading of Flint is so sincere, so open and honest, that we want the loveable loser to succeed. It's a perfect balance to Caan's cold but concerned father, an old fashioned man who doesn't know how to connect with his highly-strung son.
Everyone here is excellent, from Faris' geek in disguise to Neil Patrick Harris as a monkey equipped with a speech synthesizer, his simpleton simian thoughts vocalized with goofball abandon. Even the minor side characters have an intriguing life all their own. Lord and Miller keep the pace lively, never letting their overflowing ideas overstay their welcome. By the end, when things go from hilarious to heroic, we are so captivated by what Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is doing that we don't mind the misdirection. In fact, such cheeky revelations are par for the course with this wildly entertaining effort.