Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - And a Side of Fun

Like many others out there, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a book that I have read in my childhood, and though I haven’t really read it since, I remember enough about it to know the basic elements of the story. Because of this, I was a little surprised to hear about Sony Pictures Animation producing an animated adaptation of the book, as I wondered how exactly that could be pulled off without changing some things. When seeing it for the first time in a theater, I thought the end result was actually pretty good, and having watched it again recently, that opinion still holds true.

The island of Swallow Falls is very small (it’s located under the “A” in “Atlantic Ocean” on maps), with its main export being sardines, although times have caused the citizens of the island to be stuck with an unwanted surplus of sardines. Having tried to invent something in his youth that could benefit society (including, for some reason, rat-birds), resident Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) attempts to rectify the sardine problem by inventing a machine that takes water and converts it into food (he specifically tries to have it make a cheeseburger). However, the machine requires too much power, and meanwhile Flint’s dad (James Caan) tries to convince him to instead work at the family bait and tackle shop. While the mayor of Swallow Falls (Bruce Campbell) presents the grand opening of a new tourist attraction, Sardine Land, on national TV, Flint sneaks out of the tackle shop to get his invention to a larger power source, but he is nearly stopped by the very energetic Officer Earl (Mr. T). Just as Flint gets power to the machine, things go awry, resulting in destroying Sardine Land and the invention flying into the sky. As he sulks over this with Samantha Sparks (Anna Faris), a weather intern from the mainland reporting on Sardine Land, they and the rest of the island witness a miracle taking place: the sky begins to rain cheeseburgers. Once word gets out on how this happened, things begin to spiral out of control.

Just like you remember.

Adapting a book like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs would require a lot of changes and/or additions to be made to make it feature-length, and this movie does so while pulling off a good story. The character interactions and development are interesting, such the interactions Flint Lockwood has with his dad and Samantha Sparks, though some characters are more likeable than others (the movie does not shy away from showing how greedy and self-centered the mayor is). There is also a lot of humor present in the movie, though it misses the mark at least once or twice. While I could definitely get behind seeing Officer Earl get a little more screen time, since I think he had some of the most humorous dialogue, I think the movie could have done without delving into crude humor.

The animation is really well-done, having a more cartoonish art style that allows the characters to show a wide range of emotion (the stretchiness of this style lets you really believe the awe the island residents have at seeing a burger rain), aided by the movie having a bright color palette. I give props to the animators regarding particular physics, especially when it comes to cloth, hair, grass, and food (especially something like ice cream, candy, or gelatin), since they add something to the experience. On the subject of food, this is also rendered well, at times too well (in a good way), if only because sometimes the food looked really delicious (especially the opening cheeseburgers and the titular meatballs), and so I would advise not viewing this movie on an empty stomach.

The calm before the storm.
From left: Samantha Sparks, Officer Earl (center top), Flint Lockwood (center
bottom), the mayor

The voice acting is good as well, since the actors display a really good range of emotion with their characters, especially Bill Hader and Anna Faris as the central characters, but also including James Caan as Flint’s father, who evidently only wants for his son Flint to stay out of trouble. Bruce Campbell is an interesting choice to me, since I remember him from the Cartoon Network series Megas XLR, but I thought he made a good performance as Swallow Falls/Chewandswallow’s selfish mayor. Mr. T also showed a good range when playing Officer Earl, going from being critical of Flint to expressing how much he cares about his son Cal (Bobb’e J. Thompson). As for the music, Mark Mothersbaugh does an excellent job with the background score, though I didn’t find it to be as memorable as his later work on The LEGO Movie.

Though it differs from the source material significantly, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is still a movie I would recommend giving a shot, whether you are a fan of the book or not. Aside from the voice acting and the way the story was written, one of the strongest elements is the animation, particularly the animation of the food, which can be enough to make you want whatever Flint makes rain from the sky. It’s not a perfect flick, but it’s definitely worth a look.

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