Home > Film, Reviews > Film Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Film Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013; Directed by Cody Cameron & Kris Pearn)

The diminshed sequel to the inventive and hilarious Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is disappointing, manic, and derivative where the original was surprising, quick-witted, and inventive. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller step back into an exec producer/story supervisor role and loosen their grip on the impeccable, particular comic tone that is their signature, allowing a committee of less funny people (including co-writer John Francis Daley, who plays Dr. Sweets on Bones) to lacquer on a goopy layer of eye-rolling puns and overworked slapstick and physical humour. Even some imaginative visual designs, appealingly odd subplots, and insolent satire of Bay Area tech companies can’t overcome this general dumbing-down of the material. When Mr. T opts out of a project (Terry Crews impersonates him without much inspiration in voicing supercop Earl), it should be a sign that you ought to opt out as well.

Cloudy 2 picks up literally exactly where Cloudy 1 left off, mere seconds after nerdy, excitable inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) saves the day by apparently destroying his own water-into-victuals machine (acronym: FLDSMDFR) that has buried his island hometown of Swallow Falls under a disastrous deluge of mutated food items (events helpfully, boringly summarized in a short prologue). While celebrating with the whole town, his dad Tim (James Caan), and his supposed new girlfriend Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), Flint is stunned when his scientific idol Chester V (Will Forte) descends in a sleek, futuristic craft to whisk him away to the city of San Franjose (har) to work for his hero’s “applied imagination” company, Live Corp.

An Apple/Google/Pixar-type innovation factory that dresses up its cubicle-bound drudgery with the distant carrot-on-stick of an orange-vested promotion and a gargantuan volume of caffeinated drinks (“Quinoa latte?”), Live Corp’s obviously dehumanizing corporate structure does not dim Flint’s enthusiasm for inventing or his admiration of Chester V. His admiration should be dimmed, though; Chester has dispatched teams to “clean up” Swallow Falls, but in fact he wants Flint’s food-making invention for his own nefarious purposes. When the teams begin vanishing, Chester sends the “expendable” Flint back to his old home to locate the FLDSMDFR. Accompanied by Tim (a fisherman who provides the boat to get them there), Earl (plucked from a job selling cupcakes), Sam and her Latino cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), the wholly superfluous Brent (Andy Samberg), and his pet monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris, who provides Steve’s one-word verbalized thoughts, translated through a headband device), Flint discovers that his invention has become a quasi-god figure, creating sentient animals out of food (a.k.a. foodimals) and populating the overgrown, multi-coloured island with them.

While the first Cloudy parodied disaster-movie tropes in making a none-too-subtle point about the excessive consumption of the average American diet, its sequel references exotic-island monster films like King Kong and Jurassic Park to extend the critique to unethical corporate production of processed foodstuffs. This would be totally valid if anything more than the digs at the superficial elements of contemporary “creative industry” managed to hit home. And the satire (if I’m being generous enough to call it that) might go over more smoothly if it was surrounded by anything approaching the rare comic verve of Lord and Miller’s first film. But Cloudy 2 feels not like “another movie by a lot of people” (as the modest crediting ode to collaborative animated filmmaking refers to), but a movie by people who liked the last movie and thought they’d give it a whirl, because why not!

There’s tons of overly cutesy stuff (much of it with a big-eyed, baby-talking anthropomorphic strawberry) aimed cynically at smaller children, three or four bodily function gags aimed cynically at slightly older children, and lots of overwrought, unrealistic cartoon motion, especially with Chester V’s pipecleaner limbs. The veritable avalanche of truly awful food puns also makes one long for the punchier wit of the original. Almost all of this sequel’s gags are of a similar species to those favoured in the original film, and yet practically every one is less effective, less funny, and more grating. There is also nothing as creative and edge-walkingly ironic as, say, the snowball fight scene in Cloudy. This movie desperately needed a sure hand or two to vet the humour, if not to craft it carefully. Lord and Miller provided those hands with #1, but keep them in their pockets with #2.

This lack of consideration and intelligence with the material sabotages a reasonable premise (albeit one that contradicts the rebuilding coda over the credits of the first film) and some memorable animation design. The various foodimals are wildly inventive, from elephants made out of watermelons to baked potato hippos to a carnivorous taco-ingredient dinosaur. Tim, left on the boat as Flint and his crew trek across the island, has a deeply surreal subplot with a brood of sardine-loving pickles whom he teaches to fish. Indeed, at its very fleeting best moments, Cloudy 2 occasionally evokes a near-psychedelic Yellow Submarine surreality.

But it’s all for naught, as the comedy bends to the sophomoric and the proceedings descend from animated to merely cartoonish. On top of its many surface-level failures, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 also messes around with the consistency of the characters as established in the original film. In order to serve the plot and to provide an antagonist, Flint’s admiration for Chester V is shoehorned into the opening re-statement of his devotion to science, a devotion emotionally grounded in the first film in his natural overflowing nerdiness but also in his fondness for his deceased mother, who encouraged those tendencies in her son. Though we never heard of him in the first, better film, Chester V becomes Flint’s raison d’être as an inventor in this one. Additionally, although the last film ends and this one begins with Flint and Sam kissing and evidently becoming a couple, their attachment is completely dormant in the rest of the film. Much more focus is placed on more vague themes of friendship. In a diagnosis that pinpoints the poorly condition of the product as a whole, the entire damn movie has been friendzoned.

It’s perhaps a bit too much to expect of an animated feature aimed squarely at children to have the sort of consistency or sly wit and sophistication that I seem to be craving. But Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a sugary confection of a movie that I nonetheless adore unabashedly, had those elements down cold, and delivered them with a quirky energy and desire to upend genre cliches that very much suggested Lord and Miller’s brilliantly funny cult animated show Clone HighCloudy 2 re-entrenches those cliches and misdirects that energy. This disappointing movie can never takes its infinitely superior predecessor from us adult fans of creative, smart feature animation, but it dishonours its relatively minor legacy nonetheless.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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