The short review: A visual smorgasbord with more puns and wordplay than an Abbott and Costello routine, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a capable, rollicking, and ultimately enjoyable sequel that packs in enough sight gags, stunning visuals, and enjoyment to justify the price of admission, even if it lacks any real nutritional value.
The long review: Stretching a 32 page children’s book into a 2 hour film was a feat, but in 2009, Philip Lord and Chris Miller managed to defy all expectations by turning out a sleeper hit that charmed audiences and critics alike. On the island of Chewandswallow, a banana republic in which the only source of nourishment is sardines, starry-eyed young inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) created the succinctly-named Flint Lockwood Diatomic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator, which transforms water into whatever food item he so desired. As is the case with all potentially life-changing inventions, things go horrifically awry, causing the skies to rain giant meatball meteors down on the town. Unfortunately for Flint, this pastapocalypse also prevented him from making good with his lady love Sam Sparks, an adorable, bespectacled local meteorologist. But, it’s a kids’ movie, and who needs all that gushy romance anyway?
Now, four years later, there are new chefs in the kitchen: directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn. The sequel picks up roughly 8 minutes after the first film ends, meaning that Flint has saved the day, but his hometown is in ruins and the townsfolk need someplace to live. Enter maverick billionaire inventor Chester V., a Steve Jobs-meets-Richard Branson type and Flint’s childhood hero who made his name with a life-changing, nutrient-laden food bar that captured the hearts and minds of the consuming public. Chester V. is busy at work upgrading his life’s work to the Food Bar 8.0, but he’s not too busy to promise the denizens of Chewandswallow a solution to their problem: he’ll send a team of lackeys to clean up the island and temporarily put up the the citizens in the bayside city of San Franjose. But that’s not all — he’s also giving young Flint an entry-level position at Live Corp., his lightbulb-shaped idea farm where aspiring genius inventors can fill their heads with inventions and their bodies with caffeine.
Naturally, one thing leads to another and Flint must take his ragtag group of friends, including Sam, a taciturn but wise cameraman (Benjamin Bratt), a hulking cop with an appetite for justice (Terry Crews), a chicken suit-clad buffoon (Andy Samberg), a monkey with Neil Patrick Harris’ voice, and Flint’s sardine fishin’, Wilford Brimley-lookin’ father (James Caan), back to the island of Chewandswallow, which at this point is essentially Jurassic Park with food. What follows isn’t as important as what they find there: adorable foodimals, hilarious puns and droolworthy visuals.
Cameron and Pearn’s recipe calls for about 300% more food-based puns per serving than the original, but this new iteration of Chewandswallow is a vibrant, living jungle of apple piethons, shrimpanzees, snapping tacodile supremes, mosquitoasts, rampaging cheespiders and all manner of other food-based portmanteaus. In addition to the pun-based genus of foodimals, there are creatures that simply are what we eat: uber-kawaii marshmallows, sentient strawberries, shrieking leeks, and a tribe of sardine-loving pickles that take a liking to Flint’s father. It’s a conceit that allows for scores of sight gags and, fortunately, they play well with parents and younger viewers alike, rather than resorting to the “man falls down, then farts”-style of humor that has been prevalent in other animated children’s fare.
While the film is an awful lot of fun, it does run a bit long and the food gags and repeated messages of friendship and believing in oneself all start to lose their flavor after a while. My critical colleague, LA Weekly’s Amy Nicholson, used what she referred to as a “gratuitous Morrissey quote” in her review: “Heifer whines become human cries/Closer comes the screaming knife/This beautiful creature must die/This beautiful creature must die.”
It’s a point that’s well taken. The film, replete with adorable foodimals, can be seen as somewhat subversive and implicitly horrific, given that, apart from some maple syrup and rock candy, nearly everything we’d normally eat is both sentient and adorable. It’s a weird dichotomy for kids to be faced with, seeing what they eat come to life and wreak havoc, but a little psychological scarring builds character – at least that’s what my parents always told me. So, as a similarly ardent Morrissey lover, I’ve got one of my own: “You’re the one for me, Fatty/you’re the one that I really, really want.”
Don’t let your diet or your child’s food-based fears dictate your enjoyment of the film. What it lacks in substance, it makes up for in visual splendor and unadulterated, unpasteurized fun.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is in theaters everywhere today. Hungry for more? Check out my interview with the cast on the Nerdist Channel below or read Kyle’s interview with Anna Faris!
What did you think of the film? Let us know in the comments below or tell me in person on Twitter!