Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2
The first "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" was nearly a miracle. The picture -- in which inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by the great Bill Hader) battled with a machine that turned rain into food, leveling Paris with pancakes and playgrounds with lethally large scoops of ice cream -- was a visually ingested hallucinogenic drug. Orange skies, fishing shacks, and ginormous vegetables were all rendered in the same lovingly cartoonish sheen, and each character had Looney Toons-style exuberance to go along with it. The whole thing was a rush. That delightful picture even managed to be a spot-on satire of oversized action pictures (you'll struggle to find any animated film with more edits).
The directors of that movie -- Phil Lord and Christopher Miller -- have moved onto bigger things ("21 Jump Street," the upcoming "Lego" movie). Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn have stepped into their place, and brought along with them a series of diminishing returns. In fact, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" is like one of those direct-to-video Disney sequels from the 1990s. Even though it's coming from the same studio, and much the same "team," every element just seems off. It's still funny, and it's still very pretty to look at, but it's just not inspired anymore. It's lesser.
It's even written cheaply: We open with a recap of the first movie that semi-slyly changes part of Flint's backstory. We now see that he idolizes famous scientist Chester V (Will Forte,) making it easier for a more tangible villain to enter the fray. "Cloudy 2" catches us up right to the point where the last film left off: Flint's saved the day after his island-town was destroyed by sentient food monsters. He's afforded just a few moments with his friends -- significant other Sam Sparks (Anna Faris,) his dedicated Dad, Tim (James Caan,) and his talking monkey, Steve (Neil Patrick Harris,) among others -- before Chester swoops in and claims to be the head of the clean-up project for the island.
A long series of convoluted events lead to Flint and his friends scouring the island alone in search of the MacGuffin-device. Chester, of course, is aiming to claim it for nefarious means. What they find allows the film to tweak the disaster-movie stance of the first movie: All the food has now come alive; "shrimp-panzees," "taco-diles," and all innumerable other animal-food hybrids roam the land. The camera pans up to their faces, the score swoons in wonder as we first lay eyes on the creatures. It's an edible "Jurassic Park." The designs are still beautiful, per the original film, and the sheer invention the designs -- whose large eyes and zombified smiles only contribute to the psychedelic atmosphere of the universe -- are enough to earn a fair few chuckles.
Yet, the film never reaches the sophisticated heights of Lord and Miller's take. "Cloudy 2" is a one-joke movie -- it's a joke that's able to continually rephrase itself, but it's still one-joke all the same. And it's never as funny as the jokes told in the first movie. The edits still come fast and furious, but they don't feature the rhythm and use of repetition that the original featured. The satire is still present -- Chester V's followers hang on every word, treating him like a Steve Jobs-type deity -- but never quite as pointed. Like the first, "Cloudy 2" is the rare movie that adults and kids can enjoy on the same level. Unfortunately, this time they won't enjoy it as much.