I adore Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s adaptation of the classic children’s book is one of the most unexpected and successful book adaptations of the past several years. Most films based on children tales are belabored, boring stuffs, and Cloudy turned the simple idea of food falling from the sky into an odd, adorable, and fun animated comedy. It set an incredibly high stake for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, but new directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn have come real close to delivering us a film as amazing as the original.
Everything that made the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs a triumph is still in tact, although there’s more reliance on some cheap gags. The sequel has cemented the identity of the franchise although the story leaves some residual guiltiness about becoming a carnivore.
Following right where the first film left off, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is ready to set up a science-based theme park, “Sparkswood”, on his tiny island of Swallow Falls with girlfriend and meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), security guard Earl (Terry Crews), bully-turned-friend Brent (Andy Samberg), Flint’s dad (James Caan), and talking monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris). But before they can even start, famous scientist and Flint’s hero-from-childhood Chester V (Will Forte) comes charging in under the guise of cleaning up the messes and to offer Flint a spot at Chester’s science utopia, Live Corp. But Flint is soon called back in to shutdown the food-creating FLDSMDFR, which has turned back on and is creating food-animal hybrids. Flint and his friends come back to Swallow Falls to put a stop to the FLDSMDFR and prevent the “foodimals” from fleeing to the mainland.
The story hits the ground running while still holding true to the spirit of thee. Although Flint shortly leaves his friends (with the exception of Steve) behind to go to Live Corp, his enthusiasm is infectious. It’s such a delightfully silly environment where the building is shaped like a giant light bulb and the employees need caffeine patches to stay sharp. It’s almost a little of a disappointment to see Flint leave Live Corp as it gives him room to come up with wacky inventions and for the story to lovingly mock nerds. But Flint ultimately needs his friends, and their presence gives the film its sweetness as they travel to a completely reimagined Swallow Falls.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 story doesn’t try to deny the huge influence of Jurassic Park as the wild foodimals evoke a sense of fright. But they also inspire a sense of “awwwwwww”. The breakthrough character is Barry, a wide-eyed strawberry who speaks in adorable gibberish. Also, as Cameron and Pearn understand the humor of the first installment, they’re not scared to put up some strange, potentially off-putting jokes like Flint screaming for an extended period when meeting Barry for the very first time. It’s such a weird moment that could easily alienate the viewers, but the first film went for those kinds of laughs, and I couldn’t be happier that Cameron and Pearn remained that sense of humor in this sequel.
For the most part, Cameron and Pearn avoid reusing jokes from the original, and rather seek to recapture the tone. There are a handful of jokes that kids will enjoy (there were tons of laughs from the young audience members at my screening), but Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is the blessed animated family comedy that throws in loads of jokes for the adults. When Chester V. hands Flint a “BSUSB” to shutdown the FLDSMDFR, the kids in the audience probably won’t get the joke about the device’s name, but adults will get a kick out of it. Also, the humor isn’t mutually exclusive, and everyone can appreciate the endearing silliness on display. The only times when the comedy falls short is when it relies too much on fart/poop jokes, and by showing that Brent doesn’t have much to do as most of his lines is his catchphrase “Uh oh!”
There’s also a weird theme that emerges as the film goes. The overarching concept is about trusting your friends rather than trusting whom you look up to, but there’s also a separate, bizarre subtext about vegetarianism. Almost all of the foodimals on the island are captivating, and most of them are fruits, vegetables, or non-meat products like marshmallows. We eat these foods without a second thought because they’re not alive. But we wouldn’t eat them if they were cute and cuddly, so why do we eat food that comes from actual cute and cuddly animals? I have to admit I felt a little guilty about eating meat after seeing the film. I soon got over it, and the film doesn’t chastise the viewers, but there is a notion of being careful what you eat as what you eat has feelings.
But this takes a backseat to celebrating friendship, and the lowbrow humor is dwarfed by the brilliant comedy Pearn and Cameron along with screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have delivered. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 has established and defined what will hopefully be a long series filled with oddball characters, a lot of heart, and moments like talking pickles learning the finer points of fishing for sardines.