I used to look forward to every new animated feature; now I take them on a case-by-case basis, and to be honest, I dread having to sit through some of them. So it’s with a great sense of relief—and delight—that I offer an enthusiastic review of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Based on the 1978 children’s book by Judi Barrett (illustrated by Ron Barrett), this lively (some would say…
hyperactive) contemporized adaptation offers visual and verbal humor to please a fairly wide audience, from young children to grownups.
What won me over from the start was the character design: the film is populated by fancifully exaggerated versions of boys, girls, men and women. That’s half the fun. The fact that they speak in sitcom style may be attributed to the résumés of the writer-directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who are TV veterans but new to animation. Yet somehow the peppy dialogue, sprinkled with gags, seems to suit the movie’s cheerfully unrealistic milieu: an island community that used to subsist on the sardine industry, now just a fading memory. Enter boy scientist Flint Lockwood, who lives in a world of his own, driven by one shining goal: to become a great inventor. When he devises a contraption that can turn water into food he hovers on the precipice of greatness. Then something goes wrong.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs moves along at a steady clip, only inviting mild criticism when it goes into overdrive during the climax. One young girl sitting behind me got spooked—not only by the frenzied nature of the action but the appearance of a hypodermic needle, to help a character out of anaphylactic shock. (I’m no fan of needles myself, but I got caught up in the chaotic comedy and didn’t mind.)
With excellent voice work by Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan (very funny as Flint’s inexpressive father—depicted as a man with a constantly furrowed and furry brow), and Mr. T, among others, Cloudy offers sunny entertainment with a light but palatable “message” about being true to yourself. More important, the film stays true to its goal of upbeat entertainment.