With its giant hamburgers and ice cream snowflakes falling from the sky, Ron and Jodi Barrett’s classic children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs imaginatively expanded its prepubescent audience’s sense of wonder and possibility. Now a 3D animated film, adapted to the screen by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Cloudy looks to work similar magic on a new generation.
Geeky inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) was always the laughing stock of Chewandswallow, a tiny island town mainly known for its overproduction of sardines. Be it the spray-on shoes that solved the untied-shoelace epidemic or the remote control TV that literally got up and walked away, his concoctions, though created to improve the everyman’s life, never garnered the desired attention and affirmation of his fellow townsfolk. Now a grownup, Flint labors away in a makeshift, secret laboratory that is more like a glorified, metallic tree house. But all the shame he once suffered is remedied when he invents a machine that can virtually transform water into food, providing plenty of alternatives to those putrid sardines and finally earning him some respect, despite subsequent malfunctions that send oversized, havoc-wreaking hot dogs raining above people’s heads.
Featuring a spectacular voice cast that includes Hader, Anna Faris, and James Caan, Cloudy playfully skewers the disaster-film genre (spaghetti-and-meatballs tornadoes that lift up houses, and with them, old men taking baths) and is emboldened by thoughtful commentary on consumerism and waste (Flint invents a machine that catapults the leftovers from the constant food downpours to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind garbage mound). There’s a giddy quality to the film, surely supplemented by comedy specialists like Hader and Faris, who infuse their characters with significant buoyancy and heart, and Bruce Campbell as the ballooning Mayor of Chewandswallow practically steals the show in his drolly conniving, over-the-top portrayal.
Man’s gluttonous behavior was comically put on display throughout the Barletts’ finely etched, concisely worded story, and Lord and Miller’s alterations expand upon its lean plot, which mostly focused on the town as a whole and not one specific character. (Fllint, his storyline, and the supporting colorful cast of characters are all original creations here.) The filmmakers further bring to life the book’s potent satire (a mob of townspeople ridiculously dances in the streets, trying to catch with their mouths whatever ounce of cuisine they can get). The film, sweet at its core though not as fully nuanced and penetrating as Up and the majority of its Pixar counterparts, develops a warm relationship between Flint and his dad, grounding the food frenzy and hysteria with a heartfelt wonderment.