Animation | rated PG | starring voices of Bill Hader, Anna Farris, Mr. T, James Caan, Andy Sandberg, Bruce Campbell | 1:27 mins
Wannabe scientist Flint Lockwood (VO Bill Hader) invents a machine that can turn water into food in his attempt to solve a food shortage in the once thriving sardine producing city of Swallow Falls. The machine works when released into the atmosphere causing it to rain food. When orders begin pouring in the machine starts to mutate the food beyond Flint’s control and while trying to win his dad’s (James Caan) approval, the town’s approval and the affection of visiting weather intern Sam Sparks (Anna Farris), Flint must stop the machine before it creates a foodpocalypse that threatens to bury the town and indeed the world under it’s own gluttony.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is quite possibly the funniest, most clever, animated movie I have seen. This unlikely wonderful film isn’t kid’s movie silliness, it’s genuinely funny. It is aggressively irreverent. A family film for The Simpsons generation. In fact, with it’s blink-or-you’ll-miss them one-liners, visual freeze-frame gags and abundance of integrated pop culture parody Meatballs is more like a classic Simpsons episode than The Simpsons Movie was. It’s all gag-based, but it’s clever gags. Jokes that are funny at first glance are then built upon and twisted into another joke 30 minutes (or so) later for an even bigger laugh.
And writer/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Clone High) have extrapolated all of this food-based madness from a picture book. They dig far and deep, getting seemingly endless mileage out of food – sardines, pizza, gummy bears and, in a favorite little bit, Neapolitan ice cream. Not to mention the general satirically disgusting attitude toward gluttony. In a world where some countries throw away food, while others starve – having it fall from the sky, getting the mayor (Bruce Campbell) so fat he can’t walk and having the excess backfire on them is a parable that works without beating it home.
The tale of excess takes an ominous turn as Meatballs builds into a disaster movie. The food mutates into bigger and openly hostile forms, crushing world landmarks and flying after enemies. I won’t lie, in taking this concept to it’s fullest potential, the movie gets pretty insane. Were it a TV show it would have jumped the shark in the final 10 minutes or so. But I like that in a movie. I want it to be an event. I want it to go all out. Between man-eating chicken weirdness, destructive gummy bears and monkey thought translators, Meatballs leaves no stone unturned. The 3rd act is thrilling straight-up rollercoaster ride where every attempt to stop the machine is met with an impossible setback.
At the center of it all, Flint is an imaginatively realized character. Working in a lab that is more like a child’s treehouse. Narrating his actions. Flint’s child-like enthusiasm and resourcefulness is utterly charming. The story’s detached father/son dynamic is common in family films but is done with freshness and realism here. Hader is completely in character here and with the possible exception of Mr. T (yes, Mr. T) no voice work stands out showboating over the story.
I love Pixar movies, but after years of dramatic Pixar films border on emotional overkill, it is so refreshing to see a cartoon act like a cartoon again. Meatballs is a mad-capped, inspired, clever, comedy with unmatched irreverence that might go over better with the adults in the audience than the kids. A must see.