The Night Out: Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009), or Who Doesn’t Love 3-D Food?

20 09 2009

Hello, all! That title is a little bit of a misnomer. Apparently I don’t love 3-D food, because I didn’t go to the 3-D showing of today’s animated kids picture, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I know, I know. They’ll be changing the classification on my drivers license from Jerk to ASTRO-JERK tomorrow, so I have to deal with both the shame and the consequences of my public misgivings. Regardless, the fact remains that I just saw it, and my first impressions are very, very good. The best thing a kids film can have going for it is that it reaches across the table to the adults who have to sit right next to the target audience. And CwaCoM does a splendid job with keeping the adults laughing too. It’s a breezy, hilarious film about giant food that took me by surprise.

CwaCoM begins in boring old Swallow Falls, which is experiencing a bit of a slump, due to its main export being nasty sardines. Young Swallow Falls resident Flint Lockwood wants desperately to save the town from biting the dust, so he uses his skill as an inventor to come up with a wondrous machine that can help. It’s a device that transforms water into food, which is probably the greatest invention that ever came out of anything, ever. He unveils it one day to the townsfolk, using the power of the local electrical station to amplify its results, when the resulting surge of electricity sends it rocketing into the air. He chalks it up as a failure, as we learn that nearly all of his inventions are, but as he sulks with his monkey sidekick Steve at the local pier, a ray of hope comes to him in the form of a falling burger from the sky. It turns out that when the machine flew into the air, it reacted with the moisture in the nearby clouds, and so it begins to rain burgers on the town. The invention turns out to be a smashing success, and with the knowledge that it works, Flint uses a satellite to communicate to the floating device, which gives him the ability to make it rain any type of food he wants at any time. Soon, the town plans a comeback, with Flint’s wonderful creation as the centerpiece to the town’s planned economy. All kinds of fun food frolicking commences, and things begin to look up for the young inventor, who is now the toast of the town. But things take a turn for the worse when it appears that perhaps the food might be over-mutating and growing uncontrollably large. Can Flint foil this food fiasco before it’s too late? Does he even want to, now that his invention has made him the talk of the town?

This was a seriously fun time at the movies. The secret is the voice acting cast, which is chock-full of SNL alums and top-notch funny people, as well as a few names refreshingly out of left field. Bill Hader is Flint Lockwood, and his brilliant comic exuberance really makes me excited about giant food. No matter what he’s in, Hader has the ability to grab my attention and run with it, even if he’s only voicing a character. Andy Samberg and Will Forte from SNL’s most recent generation of high-profile comedians also make cameos to great effect. I don’t know what this generation of comedy will be remembered for, but let it never be said that they weren’t extremely creative, because these guys know how to make a situation interesting. Anna Faris co-stars as a local weather girl named Sam who reports on the food-weather, but she isn’t anything special. Bruce Campbell plays the mayor of Swallow Falls, and his character’s certainly a highlight, especially his ever-present weight gain after the device begins working. Campbell is a natural at voice work, and I like him in just about anything.

The real shocker here is Mr. T, who comes out of semi-obscurity to voice an energetic police officer clad in short-shorts with lots of love for his son. He was a hoot! It’s good to know that T has a sense of humor, and that he can use his larger-than-life persona for something other than hocking World of Warcraft and making PSA videos about having respect for yourself. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see him in more comedies, and if you’re reading this, Mr. T, I promise to drink my milk every morning and make my bones strong and healthy if you make another comedy next year! Think about it!

But the voice actors aren’t the only draw for this film. It really does look good. Sony has created an animation engine that not only has a lot of luscious detail, but fares well in comedy. It’s a visually stunning experience, but has a lot of get-up-and-go to use in high-speed comedic tomfoolery. Unlike the animation style for Up, where I could see the speed of motion was more realistic and fluent, this seems more focused on cartoonish antics, which need speed on the delivery. It really, really pays off sometimes; there’s a sequence early on where Sam plops her feet down by the dock and plants them right in Flint’s huge eyeballs; the delivery is fucking perfect, and I couldn’t see a hand-drawn cartoon doing it better, which is about the best compliment I could give a movie like this. If only I had seen it in 3-D… 😦

CwaCoM is one of the funniest films of the year, animated or no. You’ll be genuinely surprised at how much you laugh as an adult watching a cartoon. Hell, I laughed more than the kids in the theater did! It’s well-timed, unbelievably witty and absurd humor that is clean enough for anyone to get behind. The only flaw I see here is the second half of the film, where some of the jokes are brushed aside for the mandatory life-lesson parable that I am getting pretty tired of seeing in every kids movie. But why split hairs when EVERY movie with a G rating gets that lesson pounded into it and this one in particular is so good? I liked it a lot, and I think you will too. I give Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 9 ASTRO-JERKS out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I will drive up next to Spielberg’s small-scale thriller Duel! Until then!