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Monday
Sep142009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is like watching a relative die from a slow, incurable disease. You've loved it as long as you've known it and it pains your heart to see it steadily decline with so much potential that will never be discovered. That is to say that the film is rock solid for the first hour and 10 minutes or so, delivering constant laughs and a smart script, only to crash land in the end with stupid plot turns and missed opportunities.

The film takes place on a little island called Swallow Falls, which has been able to thrive economically thanks to its famous sardine factory, but times are tough and the factory is closing. Due to lack of resources, the residents of the town are forced to eat what is leftover from the now shut down plant. Meanwhile, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), an always curious scientist, has created a machine that turns water into food which will soon become his greatest masterpiece. In the hopes of bringing tourists to the island, Mayor Shelbourne (voiced by Bruce Campbell) is about to open a new sardine themed amusement park, but during the ceremonies, Flint's machine blows up, wrecking everything and shooting up into the atmosphere. Though the town is infuriated with Flint at first, it quickly begins to rain cheeseburgers and the town realizes that his invention could be the end of their worries.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is like a well written cartoon, one that is aimed mainly at children, but is positively delightful for adults as well. Much like the way Nickelodeon's Fairly Oddparents works, the film is written intelligently, with a strong sense of imagination and humor that is appropriate, and more importantly funny, for all ages. Also like that excellent television program, the movie features quick-witted dialogue and dozens of visual gags that can easily be missed by blinking at the wrong time.

Part of its appeal comes from its smart play on words that sound half-witted on paper, but work in the film due to the excellent delivery and contextually clever script. "You've seen a meteor shower, but you've never seen one meatier than this," Sam Sparks (voiced by Anna Faris) says during her weather forecast at one point in the movie, defying the rules of how script to screen translations generally work. What is usually the case is that something will work on paper and not work well on film, but the dialogue here sounds idiotic in print (as you can probably tell by reading the above quote), but do wonders in the final product. The dexterous abilities of the talented cast and the astutely written script take what could be another throwaway animated movie and turn it into something special, though it isn't without its blemishes.

There is a fine line between silliness and stupidity. Silliness is defined in my book as over the top, but nonetheless charming. Stupidity is over the top that goes much too far and drifts away from what made the film so charming to begin with. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs tip toes perfectly in the middle for the first two-thirds, getting as zany as it can get without getting dopey, but then plummets hard on the side of stupidity thanks to a strange and unnecessary narrative decision to bring the food to life, with kung fu fighting poultry (already cooked) and figher pilot pizza slices that fly through the air and chase after Flint and his gang. As absurd as the whole premise of the film is, one would expect something this nutty to occur, but that doesn't mean it works.

It felt like the filmmakers couldn't come up with a conflict or a viable solution and resorted to sentient food, which comes off as an abrubt departure from the controlled goofiness of previous scenes. It becomes a movie in desperate search of an ending and it looks in all the wrong places. The problem is that the film couldn't see the human conflict right in front of it that could have served this purpose.

By fleshing out the relationship conflict between Flint and his father, making it a vital component to the overall picture, all film disputes could have been solved without a reliance on a ridiculous food vs. people conflict, but that relationship is rarely explored and thus seems irrelevant. But it also misses on another level. This family tension was inserted in an attempt to make drama out of a supremely wacky idea, but the drama doesn't gel well with that idea. The film could have gone either way, dropping the drama or exploring it enough to give it some substance, which would have made up for its downfalls, but instead doesn't go far enough on any level to work and ends up sitting smack dab in the middle of the two extremes.

That being said, the film is still an enchanting fantasy that stumbles only from some odd plot decisions, but never from its vivid imagination. The animation is wonderful, not attempting to blend real life imagery with outlandish scenarios, much like the way Up did so successfully earlier this year, but trying to echo the feeling of a Saturday morning cartoon and it largely succeeds. The characters are visually exaggerated and they move with a frantic urgency not because something of importance needs to be cared for, but because that's just how they move in their realized world, zipping to and fro in the blink of an eye.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs works aesthetically, but it also works comically and produces as many laughs as it possibly can, in large part thanks to its lively cast and likable characters. Flint is an inventive person with a wily imagination. Even as an adult, his childlike sensibilities and natural wonderment hasn't changed, which will appeal to kids who will enjoy his childish follies, but it will also appeal to adults who will see themselves in him, a person always in search for answers to life's biggest questions, though it seems like none are to be found. But all of that still can't save the idiocy that bookends the movie. It's still a good ride, but with a few key changes, it could have been great.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs receives 3.5/5

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