After an early helping of movie disappointment this summer followed by a second course of much better from D9, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs is the sweet cherry on top of this summer fare. And we relished every morsel.
Cloudy takes us where Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett's beloved children's book did not: Inside the lives of the villagers of Chewandswallow. Before bacon and eggs rained from the skies, the town was the number one sardines producer. But when the sardine market took a turn for the worse, the town was forced to eat the cities remaining sardine stock the people became pretty miserable (Insert 'Swallow's daily paper headline "Sardines Are Super Gross").
Meanwhile, the town's littlest scientist, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), is dealing with some problems of his own. An aspiring inventor, complete with adorable mad scientist rock star posters, Flint spent his childhood in misery after being teased mercilessly for all his failed inventions like the ratbird or spray on shoes that you can never take off. It's the classic (and yes, a bit overdone) your-inner-self-is-special tale. Eventually, Flint holes up in his lab with his sidekick Steve, a monkey wearing a Flint-created thought-translator (which means we get to hear the inner workings of a monkey's brain, mostly hilarious one word statements HUNGRY, EXCITED, GUMMI BEARS or STEVE!!!! voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) looking for the best invention. After lots of role-playing self-narrating moments in his backyard laboratory constructed to look like a version of 2001: A Space Odyssey made up of shower curtains and egg crates, Flint creates a robot that will turn water into food... which eventually ends up in the sky pumping out food for the masses, much to everyone delight and eventual terror.
In spite of its obvious plot, every joke, side story, character and event fits into the other, perfectly weaving an incredibly emotional and engaging story that will have you laughing out loud through glossy tear-filled eyes. And, yes, I'm not the only audience member that wiped away a few stray tears by the end. Everything has a purpose in this film, be it a homage to the original with an outdoor restaurant minus the ceiling so the spaghetti can just drop in, or Flint's distant father's muppet unibrow marring his eyes from view. For when that character finally lifts up his heavy brow, the comical pay off is classic.
It's the mix of little things like the shallow thoughts of a talking monkey added to the insane attention to detail that directors and writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller put into the script that elevates this film above all the other "it's not a Pixar" animations. Their razor sharp banter puts it miles above Monsters Versus Aliens and will keep you in stitches along with the little ones. And sure, some of the humor may be over the kiddies' heads but, to quote the directors themselves, "I didn't know what Bugs Bunny was doing when he pretended to be Humphrey Bogart as a kid, but I still really enjoyed what the character was doing. And now that I'm older it's adds something new because I know who that is... He's an actor, right?"
A lot of people will try and label Cloudy's humor as "quirky" or "off the wall", but I call it current. It's the type of cutting-edge "ha ha's" perfect for today's audience, a mixture of wit and blatant in-your-face comedy backed by heart. The ability to write cutting satire that also oozes love was apparent early on in their work as co-executive producers for the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, which is another great example of the Miller and Lord style. Each character gets skewered in their time onscreen, but in a loving way. Plus, not once do you see any of these laughs coming - the jokes, like their characters, are wholly original takes on a possibly cliched moment. While other writers might have gone for the cheap and easy, Lord and Miller kept it smart and surprising all the way through.
Another delicious course to the veritable bounty of treats awaiting inside Cloudy is the 3D element. In a movie industry where each new release is practically falling all over each other to slap the "IMAX 3D" sign on the front of their marquees, it's nice to see this technique actually enhance the viewing experience. Not once did the filmmakers lean on the over-the-top pointing sticks into the crowd 3D shtick. And what was 3D film created for, if not to put the audience in the middle of a cheeseburger storm? It's beautiful and takes you right inside the ice cream color palate world of Chewandswallow.
For the odd purists that demand a by-the-book recreation the Barretts' masterpiece, I'd like to point out that an exact recreation would merely be a 10 minute movie. This film, which worked closely with the Battetts throughout the production process, truly brings Chewandswallow to life, filling the town with folk that you grow to love so that, when the flea from a spagetti tornado, you're actually rooting for their safety. The film also easily incorporates classic images from the book into the plot, making note not to leave behind a single sailing sandwich or pancake squashed public school. In fact, it even helps to explain and flesh out some of the more miraculous weather occurrences. Who didn't want a closer look at the giant orange Jell-o mold on the horizon? The movie doesn't overshadow the book for a second - it's more of a loving addition then runs along side the original.
The only pitfall for this lovely film is the constant juggling of moral lessons it labors to keep in the air. Sure, they were going to have to touch on the excess issue when Cloudy opens up a nacho cheese hot tub smack in the center of their town, but I was much more invested on the character dilemmas and the relationships rather than being forced to realistically fathom what happens to a child when you throw them in a jellybean pool (Turns out it's a food coma)... But, at the same time, the whole experience was still fairly funny. And in the end, if you don't at least get a little chocked up in the end, then you're just a cold plate of left overs.
All food puns aside, Cloudy is all heart and laughs, and my favorite movie this summer.