Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
I always, always, visit the bathroom before I go into the cinema. There are few things I hate worse than being distracted from a good movie by a bursting bladder. Just before I watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I gulped down a full bottle of mineral water, then took my whizz - unfortunately, I forgot that it takes time for the human body to process fluids. I had to run out for a pee break right in the middle of an exciting action scene, forcing me to miss out on a minute or two of the film.
So I'm gonna go watch it again. Yes, it's that good.
Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) wants to be an inventor, despite the fact that his inventions never work, his father (James Caan) doesn't understand him, the local police officer Earl Devereaux (Mr. T) considers him a public menace, and he's the laughingstock of his hometown of Swallow Falls. However, in an effort to help the town after the local sardine cannery closes down, he invents a device that converts water into food - and it causes cheeseburgers and other yummy things to fall from the sky like rain. Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), a weather intern from a national news channel, arrives to cover the gastro-meteorological phenomena, and Flint is quickly smitten. But the device begins to show dangerous signs of overuse, and Flint - egged on by the greedy and gluttonous Mayor (Bruce Campbell) - doesn't realise it until the windfall turns into disaster.
Thank you Movie Gods! It figures that a kids'... no, an all-ages animated film proves far more effective and entertaining than the last five live-action adult-oriented movies I've watched. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, creators of the MTV animated series Clone High, flesh out a goofy premise with heaps of consistently clever and inventive humour. In layman's terms, it's funny, and always in smart ways. If you're not laughing as you're watching, listen closely - you will likely hear a whooshing sound coming from right above your head.
How smart? As the title promises, there are food jokes and weather jokes. And mad-scientist jokes. And vacuous TV news jokes. And small-town corruption jokes. And YouTube jokes. And computer illiteracy jokes. And monkey jokes. And sardine jokes. And facial hair jokes. And disaster-movie jokes. Lord and Miller worked hard on this film, and their efforts pay off handsomely. The gags and clever little touches keep coming from start till end, and they all feel organic and consistent with the premise, the characters, and the world they inhabit. Few CG-animated films outside of Pixar's stable put so much effort into entertaining its audience.
Which brings us to the inevitable comparison with the greatest film studio of all time. How does this Sony Pictures Animation release stack up? Well, first of all, it certainly doesn't ape the Pixar formula. Pixar's films are usually more ambitious, employing comedy and adventure to tell a story with emotional depth. CwaCoM is more an out-and-out comedy - which, incidentally, wouldn't be half as good if it didn't aim deeper than the funny bone. Flint has been ignored and ridiculed all his life, and when he finally gains public adulation, it goes to his head. How he rediscovers his inner self is typical Screenwriting 101, but it's competently done.
But there's more! The relationship between Flint and his dad, in which the son seeks the father's approval but the father doesn't know how to say it, is effectively heartwarming. There's even a character arc for Sam the weather girl, who was as nerdy as Flint as a child but, because of a crucial difference in their upbringing, grew up ashamed of her own intelligence. The "be yourself" theme is standard-order for a movie made for kids, but here it's spiced with a "be smart" message - and this nerd-as-a-child-and-still-one-as-an-adult film critic absolutely loved that. Parents, take your kids to this, and make sure they get it.
I've barely even mentioned Officer Devereaux, who is as awesome as you'd imagine a character voiced by Mr. T could be. Or Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), Flint's talking monkey sidekick. Or Manny (Benjamin Bratt), Sam's cameraman with hidden talents. Or Baby Brent (Andy Samberg), who lives off his former fame as the town's child sardine mascot. He was Flint's childhood bully, but even he gets redeemed during the action-packed climax. In fact, everyone (except the nominal villain, the Mayor) gets a chance to be awesome, and I really think this is a golden rule to making a great movie: give your characters a chance to do something admirable. So simple, yet so many movies don't know it.
Pixar might've made this an even better movie. They might've added more emotional depth and probably even a cleverer plot. But I had more fun watching this than some of theirs, and I'll stand by that three-and-a-half-star rating. It's not only terrifically entertaining, it offers fine lessons on the dangers of greed, gluttony, short-sightedness, superficiality, and anti-intellectualism. It's not Pixar, but it's still a damn good CG-animated family film. And there's plenty of room for those.
Update: Rating revised to reflect my new five-star rating scale.
NEXT REVIEW: Inglourious Basterds
Anticipation level: eager!