Saturday, September 19, 2009

Review: "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"

"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" falls into that spectrum of animation that makes no bones about the fact that it's aimed squarely at kids.

Yes, it's nice when a movie can appeal to both adults and tykes, such as "Kung Fu Panda" or pretty much any of the Pixar flicks. And I've been very pleased with the growing number of animated films that are best appreciated by adults -- "9," "Waltz with Bashir," "Persepolis," etc.

But let's give the kiddie flicks their due: Somebody's got to entertain the wee ones, and they might as well do it well.

So it's clear to me that "Meatballs" is a well-made film, even if I didn't like it all that much. I simply am not the target audience.

Co-writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller -- both rookies -- adapted the best-selling children's book by Judi and Ron Barrett. It's about a young scientist, Flint Lockwood, who invents a machine that can turn water into food. Through a series of unintended mishaps, his gizmo gets launched into the stratosphere over the island town of Chewsandswallows, resulting in a downpour of burgers, steak, pizza and candy whenever it rains.

Flint had been the town screw-up, with all his many backfiring inventions, but now he's hailed as a hero. The island had been stagnating because its main staple, sardines, had been discovered to be gross by the world population. (I love the newspaper headline: "Sardines are gross!") So everyone on the island is sick of eating sardines, with the possible exception of Flint, who runs the local bait and tackle shop.

The daily manna from heaven is a huge boon to Chewsandswallows, even attracting the attention of Sam Sparks, an intern at the Weather Channel who gets her big break when she's sent to cover the weird weather. Sam's a brainiac who is forced to hide behind a veneer of weather-girl dorkiness, but Flint sees through it and soon they're an item.

Trouble looms when Flint overloads the machine at the behest of the town's greedy mayor, and soon things start to go screwy. The food keeps getting bigger and bigger, until Buick-sized meatballs are raining down and causing havoc.

The movie has a terrific voice cast, with Bill Hader as Flint and Anna Faris as Sam. James Caan, as Flint's dad, manages to find an emotional center despite only uttering a few dozen words. The redoubtable Bruce Campbell is the mayor, Neil Patrick Harris is a hoot as Flint's best friend/pet monkey Steve, and Mr. T is a revelation as the town's overly enthusiastic police chief.

As we've come to expect, the computer animation is crisp and inventive. Watch people's hair, in particular -- you can almost feel it tickle. If you can, make sure to catch the movie in 3-D -- the filmmakers manage to achieve a multitude of layers in every scene, without too many obvious objects flinging themselves at the camera.

Although anyone over the age of 10 may find the movie a bit tedious at times, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" is sure to leave young audiences hungry for more.

2.5 stars

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