DIRECTED BY: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
FEATURING: Voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T
PLOT: An inventor develops a machine that makes food rain from the sky, rejuvenating his hometown’s formerly sardine-based economy.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite a visual smorgasbord of semi-surreal culinary situations—checkout the 3-D food avalanche with corn, pizza slices, and tortilla chips, for example—it’s only slightly weirder than your average kids’ movie.
COMMENTS: I believe that future generations will look back on our current Toy Story/Pixar age as one of Hollywood’s golden ages of children’s entertainment. Studios are spending extravagant sums on imaginative projects, and investing their resources not only in animators but in scripts as well. Today, the top-notch children’s films are aimed at crossover audiences, and the challenge of writing for dual audiences of kids and their parents has resulted in some of the tightest, cleverest and funniest scripts of the past decade. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs may not be the pinnacle of the current crop, but it is one of the peaks. The story concerns a hapless inventor who stumbles upon a machine that allows him to generate sophisticated menus from water molecules in the upper atmosphere. This innovation eventually turns around the fortunes of his native island (a tiny speck found hiding under the “A” in “Atlantic Ocean on the map), which formerly had an economy and cuisine entirely built around sardine fishing. (Some of the best jokes revolve around the island’s sardine culture, including a local celebrity coasting on his childhood fame as a diaper-wearing canned-fish mascot). Throw in father/son tensions, a conniving mayor, and an intern weather girl/romantic interest who stumbles onto the raining food story and the script has more than enough meat on it—that’s not even factoring in the delightful sauce of Mr. T in a supporting role as an overenthusiastic cop. The technology predictably goes awry, leading to the brilliant eye-candy set pieces: a hail of cheeseburgers, a pancake flopping onto a schoolhouse, a giant atmospheric meatball that serves as a sort of Death Star, and a small army of chicken carcasses, among other fantastic moments. The pacing is sharp, laughs plentiful, and the sights bizarre enough to keep you hungering for more.
Part of the idea is to satirize American over-consumption; and while the spray of foodstuffs falling from the sky may nauseate adults, it will likely have the opposite effect on tykes in the audience, who will fantasize about the jello palace and ice-cream snowball fights, and whine to be allowed to wallow in the candy bins. Messages about being true to your nerdy nature and the sometimes subtle nature of parental love may digest better, but it’s essentially non-nutritive entertainment. That’s not a problem; nothing’s worse than a preachy kids’ movie, and watching a cartoon should be more like eating sticky candy than mushy vegetables.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“….has a bloated, claustrophobic finale that is, in one respect, downright weird (witness the giant walking headless chooks)… Family flicks, however, are under no obligation other than to entertain, and this often very funny film certainly meets its obligation.”–Annette Basile, Film Ink (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by kengo, who told us the film ” had my ‘weirdy’ senses tingling on a number of occasions.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)