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Film Review: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009; Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

McDonald's is going DOWN, people!

Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s manic candy-coated disaster-movie parody is the most purely entertaining animated film I can remember seeing in a long while. Revelling in its outsized concept – an awkward young inventor crafts a device that causes food to fall from the sky, leading to public praise and then to predictable destruction – Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs tosses something hilarious at you in nearly every frame. The endless clever sight gags are dizzying in a Wallace and Gromit kind of way, and there’s plenty of huge laugh lines on top of that. Even when the animated genre’s predictable cliches crop up, Miller and Lord find a way to subvert them every so slightly (much as they did on their short-lived cult MTV animated show, Clone High).

I could go on describing all of the successful elements that go into making the whole, but this is one of those fantastic pieces of entertainment that merits individual discovery. So I’ll just list off some of the delights that await you in a disconnected, unspoilered way:

Steve, the monkey with a thought translator. Nerdy inventor protagonist Flint Lockwood’s habit of self-narrating his actions with various verbs. Baby Brent. The fishing metaphors. Mister T as the local cop. Flint’s dad’s eyebrows. Bruce Campbell voicing the ever-ballooning town mayor (the focal point of the film’s general critique of unchecked consumption). The Jello Palace. “This is where the magic happens.” Flint’s disturbingly giddy snowball fight. Chicken Brent. Manny the Latino cameraman/doctor/pilot. The climactic generation-gap email lesson. Sardines. The pies and Mount Rushmore. The ratbirds. I could really go on.

Cloudy was also, I must say, the first time I’d felt that the new 3D effects system has added something tangible to a theatrical film, even if that something was simple unvarnished glee. I include Pixar’s overrated Up in that judgement (although not James Cameron’s Avatar, which I have purposely not seen to better burnish my contrarian bonafides). I found myself thinking of Up rather often during Cloudy, but not in a way that’s too flattering to the Pixar product. The Pixar film stable has achieved such a profile and cachet at this point that’s it’s almost impossible for any other studio’s animated products to get any real attention; they all live in the shadow of whatever Pixar puts out. This is not because everything that Pixar produces is great, as an oddly high proportion of otherwise discerning filmgoers continually insist. Pixar’s profile is so inflated at this point that even mixed product (Cars, Finding Nemo, Up) gets showered in praise and adoration; when they’re good, they’re good, but they aren’t always good.

Cloudy is emphatically not Pixar, but it’s basically equally fine work with a much different style (and, for my money, features many more subversive jokes that work for adults even more than for children). It may not have the gravitas bait that Pixar now frontloads its films with, but it does the madcap visual invention thing much better than the annointed digital animation princes have managed to do in quite a while. And it’s worth celebrating that in a film of this sort, even if the company that made it doesn’t have a cutesy anthropomorphic lamp for a logo.

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Categories: Film, Reviews

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