Review: "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" - It's Messy but Fun to Play With Your Food
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was an entertaining trifle of a movie that managed the impressive feat of expanding a slim children’s book into a satisfying feature film. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 expands on the world of the first film to yield a charming enough sequel, if also one that’s noticeably noisier and a little less focused. Still, like the first film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 compensates for a lack of sophistication through charm and endearingly juvenile sensibilities. If nothing else, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 definitely ups the ante in terms of its visuals, and is nearly worth watching strictly on its technical merits alone.
At the end of the first Cloudy film, inventor Flint Lockwood had to destroy the FLDSMDFR, his device that converted water into food and nearly caused worldwide cataclysm. The second movie picks up literally minutes after the end of the first, as Flint’s longtime science idol Chester V, founder of Live Corp, whisks the residents of the island of Chewandswallow to the city of San Franjose, California, while Live Corp cleans up the mountains of food left behind by the FLDSMDFR. But Chester’s benevolent demeanor hides an alterior motive, several plot machinations later, Flint is heading back to the island with his coterie of friends to find his malfunctioning device and shut it down for good. The FLDSMDFR isn’t quite as destroyed as everyone thought, and is not only still functioning but has evolved enough to produce sentient food/animal hybrids that might be even more dangerous to humanity than the food weather of the first movie.
The animation for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is definitely one of the movie’s high points. There’s a glorious rubbery, hand-drawn sensibility in the movie’s use of squash-and-stretch for expressive purposes. This is especially true in Flint, whose perpetual state of panic lets the animators visibly deform his head for exaggerated expressions of shock. In some scenes, he also grows a few extra arms to better flail around with. Another delight to watch is Chester V, as his arms, legs, and spine occasionally lose all their rigidity to better capture his mercurial personality (or, perhaps, give physical foreshadowing of his serpentine wiles). The animators also had a field day packing information on-screen, since nearly every shot of the film sports an exhausting amount of detail and motion. Inevitably there is always more happening than you can focus on in one go, and the monkey business in the background is sometimes funnier than the main action happening in the foreground. Indeed, there are times where one wishes the crew dialed that back a bit, since it becomes exhausting to keep up with after a while.
The movie’s crew also went all-out in designing the strange new food-based jungle of Chewandswallow, inhabited by sentient food creatures given spectacularly awful food pun names. Simplest (and arguably funniest) are the family of pickles that speak in gargles and engage in Three Stooges slapstick with Flint’s father Tim; most complex might be the massive Tacodile (Supreme), who spits a small flood of food particles with every roar. The crew’s tendency to pack information on-screen serves them better here, since that colossal attention to detail leads to some surprisingly beautiful sets. The food-based sets are often dazzling, with a particular highlight being the colorful and ornate Big Rock Candy Mountain that stands at the heart of the island, but there’s still a visual feast in elements like the repeated visual themes in Live Corp’s headquarters (and even in its founder) or the beautifully rendered cityscapes of San Franjose.
However, despite its visual charms, it’s hard not to notice how derivative Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 feels. The movie doesn’t go out of its way to hide the heavy influence of the Jurassic Park movies or other comparable monster movies. The movie also throws just a little bit more at the screen than I think it can comfortably handle. Even though the movie moves swiftly enough through its plot points, it still ends up feeling a little bit overstuffed and underfocused. As a sequel, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 doesn’t need to spend as much time introducing us to its colorful cast of characters. However, the urge to give all of them something fun and interesting to do might be part of the reason why the movie feels less focused and more chaotic than the original (and even then, Sam Sparks may get one of the funniest scenes in the movie as the landscape thwarts an effort to storm off in a huff, but otherwise has remarkably little to do). Even so, this freewheeling sensibility seems to have been a deliberate creative choice, and if so, that’s another element that probably should have been dialed back a bit.
The voice cast returns for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, with the notable exception of Mr. T as the acrobatic police officer Earl. He is not as missed as I feared he would be, since Terry Crews replaces him with the same knowing winks in his exaggerated tough-guy performance. The returning cast members all turn in fine performances again, especially James Caan, who gets a bit more to do as Flint’s father Tim. Actor Will Forte graduates to a co-starring role as Chester V, completing the psychotic Steve Jobs caricature that the character design and animation suggests; his vocal performance is as magnetic as his animated on-screen antics. Another newcomer is Kristen Schaal as Barb, Chester V’s girl Friday who is also an orangutan with a human’s brain. As always, she’s a treasure, even if she also doesn’t get quite enough to do. The movie is also perfectly willing to throw out numerous perfectly juvenile jokes, which I’m sure will drive some grown-ups to distraction. The film might overuse “getting hit in the crotch” gags, but I have to admit I still laughed pretty heartily at a “cut the cheese” joke even though (or perhaps because) it was telegraphed so far in advance.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 comes in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and the rewards are ample in high-definition. The raucous riot of colors come to vibrant life on the Blu-ray, with the food looking positively lickable. The 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack keeps the soundtrack and dialogue crystal clear and well-separated, while goosing the surround speakers and the sub-woofer at appropriate times. Accompanying the feature is a solid raft of bonus features, starting with a feature-length commentary track by co-directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, who pal around pleasantly while still yielding up lots of interesting information on the making of the film and the evolution of certain scenes and characters. There is also a slate of several behind-the-scenes featurettes, all of which seem to clock in at just over six minutes. They’ll manage to get some depth, but obviously not very much given their very short running times.
Four Cloudy-themed short films are exclusive to the Blu-ray. They’re all rendered in delightful hand-drawn animation, with the regular cast reprising their roles. Honestly, these shorts (and the delightful mixed-media ending credits) are almost more enjoyable than the movie since they aren’t as overstuffed as the main feature and are given over entirely to Looney Tunes-esque antics without the need to carry much plot. They’re all hilarious, wonderful experiences. An Ultraviolet digital code is also included. Finally, it’s a minor thing, but I was amused at the scratch-and-sniff element included on the cardboard sleeve for the Blu-ray box.
While I don’t think it has as much staying power as the first movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is ultimately entertaining enough that I can overlook its excesses and weaknesses. Like the cast of the Toy Story films, it’s fun enough to hang out with the cast of the movie again. The kids will love it, but adults can laugh at the countless food puns and rude humor as long as they can get in touch with their inner juvenile.