Deep within the attention-deficit fizziness of the original Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, there was still some small semblance of the sort of umami balance even lesser Pixar films have been known to possess. It offered animation via microwave, but the presentation at least bolstered its mouthfeel. Complementing the kid-friendly slapstick, if somewhat in counterbalance to the film’s sugary default mode, was a cautionary tale about the lurking dangers of embracing Frankenfoods, of supplanting nutrition for manufactured sensations. Too much of what tastes “good” can lead to addiction for what tastes even “better,” and be it from empty calories or from gigantic swirling tornadoes made from spaghetti, the outcome threatens human wellness. The original buried that bitter pill inside a big mound of crowd-pleasing jelly. I probably wouldn’t be so quick to submit either film to corny gastronomic comparison points if the sequel didn’t so strenuously work to form a total inversion of the first movie’s relationship with food.
As Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 opens, the people of Chewandswallow have weathered the storm, but still find themselves crowded out of their home island by all those Toho studios-sized groceries produced by protagonist Flint Lockwood’s over-functioning Diatomic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator. Enter internationally deified tech wizard Chester V, who incidentally has been Flint’s personal hero since grade school, and who shows up on the island to offer his own cleanup services. The mogul moves every citizen to San Franjosé while his minions set about their task, and offers Flint a job as an inventor for Live Corp, a trendy think tank that has evidently been kept afloat for years with his revolutionary but apparently highly evolutionary line of Food Bars, original through Version 7.0, suggesting food itself can fall victim to planned obsolescence. (That Live Corp bears a striking resemblance to an omnipresent corporation named after a food form is likely no coincidence.) It doesn’t take a genius bar to guess why Chester takes such a vested interest in Swallow Falls’s pyramids of giant food, but then again, the animators practically pre-digest those suspicions by rendering the character as a jaunty, perverse confluence of angles cagily hiding himself within a pack of identical holograms.
When Flint and his friends return to the island on a mission to find the food replicator (which Chester informs him has gone rogue again), they come to discover that the machine has become a pabuluminous Prometheus, and that all of the anthropomorphic hybrids (all of which happen to take forms that allow for cheeky portmanteaus like “shrimpanzees” and “cheespiders”) aren’t bent on destroying the world, but rather, are actually coexisting in a fruit salad utopia. What’s more, they’re remarkably receptive creatures, as evidenced when Flint’s fisher father takes a few of them aboard his skiff, proving the maxim: give a pack of sentient kid-sized cucumbers a can of sardines, and you feed them for a day; teach those cucumbers how to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime. The showdown between Chester V’s flashy manufactured gadgetry and New Swallow Falls’s model of self-sustainment is an unabashed—and, given the film’s reliance on cheap gags, unearned—defense of consuming organic. Pass the pork rinds.