Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Sometimes I know a movie is going to be good right away. This is one of those times, impending-goodness being announced early on when a wonderfully "real"-sounding kindergartener responds to his father's awkward narrow-frame-of-reference advice with an exaseperated cry of "I DON'T UNDERSTAND FISHING METAPHORS!!!" After that, I knew my afternoon was not about to be wasted.

There's a justifiable trepidation among many filmgoers about stopping in for a CG-Animated movie NOT bearing the "Pixar" stamp... you just never know if you're going to get an "Ice Age" (the first one) or a "Shark Tale." Well, if my word counts for anything, I reccomend that fans of animated comedy (or comedy in general) set said trepidation aside and give "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" a look. It's not aiming for the philosophical heft of a "Wall-E," but it's ALSO not wallowing in an ocean of cheap pop-culture-reference laughs. What we have here is a capital-F-Fun slapstick epic - a broad spoof of natural disaster blockbusters (particular the Roland Emmerich variety) bouncing around in the guise of an extraordinarily well-animated family comedy. I'm actually at a loss to describe the exact "type" of manic comedy on display, but the closest comparison I can think of is to opine that fans of the Spielberg-produced "big jokes for the kids, little jokes for the grownups" animated comedies of the 90s like Animaniacs and ESPECIALLY the late, lamented Freakazoid will feel RIGHT at home.

The whole enterprise is, technically, inspired by a well-regarded 1978 children's book; a good-natured morality-play in which the citizens of a town where food falls from the sky grow weary of culinary ease (plus the food is starting to get too big) and discover the greater joys of self-sufficiency. The FILM sets itself up mostly as a prequel, explaining how the phenomenon happened and why it ultimately stopped. Short version: Wacky inventor Flint Lockwood accidentally launches his miracle water-into-food converted into the stratosphere, resulting in periodic foodstorms that his struggling island town's corrupt mayor tries to turn into a publicity machine. Of course, things fly out of control and Flint and his friends are forced to undertake a dangerous mission to shut down the machine before mankind is wiped out by an apocalypse of oversized foodstuffs.

The plain fact is, it's just a well-made movie. The filmmakers wisely realize that the imaginatively-rendered "foodscapes" (an entire suburb burried in a "snowstorm" of ice cream scoops, a spaghetti tornado, a flotilla of sandwich-boats with pizza-slice sails, a massive fortune cookie crashing down on the Great Wall of China with a helpful prediction about the subsequent impact of a giant corn cob, etc.) are sufficient to generate visual interest and sight-gags without having to "stop for the jokes;" so we wind up with a lot of solidly-realized characters and well-explored relationships amid all the gorgeous tableaus. Flint's difficult relationship with his luddite dad and his creepy seduction by the town's oily Mayor (BRUCE CAMPBELL!!!) hit exactly the right notes; and his budding romance with a nerd-in-disguise weather girl is sweet in a way most live-action romcoms would kill to be.

It also understands that the key to a successful SPOOF is not what you make fun of, but what you DON'T. Accepting and even CELEBRATING the genuine appeal of Bruckheimer-style action scenes is what helped Team America soar, while Young Frankenstein wears it's affection for the Universal Horrors it's mocking on it's sleeve. "Cloudy" has it's fun with disaster movie conventions (a weatherman glibly notes the "odd" circumstance of the foodstorm "attacking" the world's most recognizable monuments BEFORE everything else...) and general movie tropes (during the innevitable "mob attacks man in car but never tries to break a window" scene, a character helpfully calls out "Let's rock his car back and forth!!!") but it also takes pains to play it's action beats "straight"... at least as straight as you can in a movie about giant food falling from the sky. An extended bit where a policeman (a fantastic Mr. T) makes a superhuman dash through the foodstorm to rescue his wife and son is an unapologetic stand-up-and-cheer hero moment - giant Dorito and all - while Flint and company's assault on the (now self-aware) "eye" of the foodstorm is a legitimately thrilling combination "Death Star" air-raid and dungeon-crawl that any live action blockbuster ought to be envious of.

This movie, let's face it, wasn't exactly on any discerning cineastes "must see" list; but in terms of animated family-comedy it's almost a perfect example of the genre. I'm not saying you should skip "The Informant!" in favor of this, but if you find yourself in the position of watching it I can safely say I don't think you'll be dissapointed.

3 comments:

Mykal said...

Sounds like a decent disaster movie. Though I am a bit curious to why you say not to skip "The Informant" since the movie looks like a retry of "Anchorman" is all. Something that looks fun and different looks to be better then a retry is why I am wondering is all.

Also thank you for mentioning Freakaziod was out on DVD on GameOverthinker. Went out and bought it then donated it to the Library so others could enjoy it as well.

Kyle said...

That's quite a review. I had shrugged this one off, but now I might take my 4-year-old for an early Saturday movie.

Thanks!

Drunken Lemur said...

Bob, I'm afraid that Hollywood might try and revive Freakazoid and turn him into some twisted abomination of his former self. He was the original Internet superhero, so I dread what a modern Freakazoid would be. I know they'll try it, I just know.