Monday, September 30, 2013

The Cinema File #256: "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2" Review

I love puns. I love puns so much that I named my podcast The Dirty Sons Of Pitches, because, you know, we're dirty, and we pitch stuff. Anyway, no matter how much I might love the art of punning, usually just for the pun of it, even I am amazed at how well the makers of the new film Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 have been able to sustain not one, but two movies solely on the strength of them. Glutton for punishment that I am, I made a pledge at the beginning of this year to see every wide release animated movie, and with the exception of my white whale of terribleness Planes, I've seen every one so far. Cloudy 2 is easily one of the better ones if not the best, though in 2013 that must always come with the caveat of just how lousy this year has been all around for film, and that at least one of the animated movies on the low end had Smurfs in it. Still, low standards notwithstanding, this is one animated adventure that's great to look at, just heartwarming enough without being cloying, and just plain pun as phuck. Yeah, that's why I did that. Sorry, I'll stop now.

Cloudy 2 follows the naive and wide eyed amateur inventor Flint Lockwood and his friends on another adventure to the island of Swallow Falls, which in the wake of his experiments with food-based weather in the previous film has evolved into an untamed ecosystem dominated by foodimals, living animal/food hybrids kind enough to develop into configurations conducive to funny portmanteaus. Though I mostly enjoyed the first Cloudy, I felt that the story was a bit trifling for a full length adventure, and might have worked better as a short film. A lot of the world built around this premise that wasn't specifically food related seemed like filler. The second installment does a lot better in terms of justifying itself as a complete movie, fleshing out the characters and giving them at least the trappings of emotional weight, enough that they come across as more than just cartoony whirlwinds of rubbery anatomy. Yes the food jokes are the draw, but at least this time around, they aren't the only thing to like about the movie.

Maybe its just because I'm a little more sensitive to it after watching the killer whale documentary Blackfish, but the animal rights theme underpinning this film was surprisingly heartfelt and effective even as the animals in question were so silly.  The main conflict of the film revolves around how humans perceive this new form of life, whether they're harmless and worth keeping alive, or dangerous and in need of extermination. I couldn't help seeing shades of the SeaWorld corporate line insisting that these whales are just dumb animals who enjoy their captivity, while all the experts scream that they're smart enough to understand pain and misery. They even ask the obvious question you wouldn't think they'd ask in a movie about food coming to life, namely whether or not it is morally right to still eat them, and while the answer is what you would expect, that they even broached the subject as a serious plot point is commendable.

But of course, these sorts of weighty ideas are not what Cloudy 2 is really about, and at the end of the day, all that matters is whether or not its funny. On that score, I'd say it mostly succeeds, even if the truly laugh out loud jokes are a little more spread out than I would have liked. It builds gradually in almost every respect from a decent but maybe lackluster comedy into something truly worth seeing, maybe not so much that I'd call it a classic, but certainly enough that I'm glad I made the effort. One thing I especially liked is how many of the aforementioned puns went unmentioned as (relatively) subtle sight gags. You get the obvious ones that you see in the trailer like the Tacodile and the Flamangos, but then you get ones you have to figure out, like the Hippotatomuses or the Pickle Pigmies. It sounds like a little thing, but it actually adds another dimension that I think younger kids especially would have fun with.

The cast is largely the same this time around save for the addition of 30 Rock's Kristen Schaal as a devious Orangutan (the best kind of Orangutan), and this generation's Mr. T Terry Crews replacing the actual Mr. T as the tough as nails cop from the first movie (because T no doubt has so much on his plate that he just didn't have time to come back). Its one of those casts I typically loathe in animated movies, not because its particularly bad, but because its chock full of actors that are only there to put a name on the screen, regardless of whether they're right for the part, and at the expense of an industry full of professional voice actors who could do a better job for less pay. Will Forte plays a different role this time around as a villainous cross between Steve Jobs and Bill Nye The Science Guy, doing a spot on impression of Denzel Crocker from the Fairly Odd Parents, which just makes we wonder why they didn't hire Carlos Alazraqui to do it. Neil Patrick Harris plays a freaking monosyllabic monkey who speaks via voice modulator, but we know him from that show and he needs another paycheck for phoning it in on a movie, so who cares.

Still, overall, I'd highly recommend Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2. Its a fun, frenetic, sometimes touching and always goofy visual spectacle that you'd have to have a pretty hardened heart not to get some enjoyment out of. Even if you don't like puns, or frankly especially if you don't like them, I'd suggest giving it a chance just to see if they can't wear you down and force a smile out of you by the end. It is in just about every way superior to the original, and with so many animated misfires this year (Minions!), its a welcome respite between that crappy Pixar prequel and the new Disney CG movie I got the first full trailer for today, an ice bound adventure with a goony faced snowman comic relief character that I already hate, headlining a film that's almost sure to disappoint. Maybe if they throw in a living ice cream cone or something, they might be able to save it. And next time, I say they go pre-historic, so we can have a Sorbet Toothed Tiger fighting a Tyranchisaurus Rex. That'll be sweet.

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