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"CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2"
(2013) (voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Action: Inventor Flint Lockwood and his friends return to their quarantined island to find that his infamous weather machine is still operational and churning out weird food-animal hybrids.
PLOT:
Immediately following the events of the first film, the island of Swallow Falls is quarantined after Flint Lockwood's (voice of BILL HADER) weather machine causes everything from cheeseburgers to donuts to spaghetti to rain down on it and various points around the world. The Live Corp. has been contracted for the clean-up under the guidance of legendary inventor and CEO Chester V (voice of WILL FORTE). Chester along with his talking ape assistant, Barb (voice of KRISTEN SCHAAL) immediately orders all of Swallow Falls' residents to leave the island and offers Flint a job at his Northern California headquarters.

Flint happily accepts and moves to the West Coast with his fisherman father, Tim Lockwood (voice of JAMES CAAN); his new girlfriend, meteorologist Sam Sparks (voice of ANNA FARIS); her jack-of-all-trades cameraman, Manny (voice of BENJAMIN BRATT); former Swallow Falls police officer, Earl (voice of TERRY CREWS); Flint's mischievous monkey, Steve (voice of NEIL PATRICK HARRIS); and former local celebrity mascot, Brent (voice of ANDY SAMBERG). Flint doesn't quite fit in with the corporate culture at Live Corp., though, and flames out when trying to win a contest for promotion.

The secretly evil Chester, though, intends to use Flint for his own wicked purposes. Flint's weather machine is apparently still active somewhere on Swallow Falls and is now churning out weird food-animal hybrids such as Tacodiles; shrimpanzees; fla-mangos; and a walking, cooing strawberry named Barry (voice of CODY CAMERON). The island's entire ecosystem has been altered as a result. Flint, his dad, and friends believe they are returning to Swallow Falls to destroy the machine and save their homes. Chester, though, has a completely different plan once the device is found.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
There are many things to like about the entertaining sequel, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2." The animation is fun and imaginative throughout. The storytelling is clever and efficient, respecting the intelligence of both kids and grown-ups alike. And the cast of celebrity voices gives it their all, helped greatly by some actors - most notably Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Will Forte, and Andy Samberg - gifted with comic timing.

But do you want to know what I am most impressed with? The fact that the money people involved with this are not co-branding the life out of it! Here's a film that would be SO easy to go out and pre-sell to any number of restaurant chains and major food brands. With the exception of the Subway chain, very little is being done to over-sell this flick to you and your kids in the grocery aisles and along your local fast-food rows. Maybe because the food in this movie is cross-bred with animals, and some of the resulting hybrids - the tacodile, the cheese spider - resemble more the stomping, chomping beasties of the monster movies of yesteryear than the Happy Meals of today. But still. There was much more money to be made here. And, for once, the overwhelming greed of all concerned was kept muted.

As a result, the film feels fresh and lively and not set up just to push product. Best of all, this sequel literally starts seconds after the last film ended with inventor Flint Lockwood (voice of Hader) having just saved his island home of Swallow Falls and the rest of the world from a contraption he made that caused it to rain food. A fleet of helicopters descends on Flint, his father (voice of James Caan), and his friends and neighbors, and out pops a hologram of Chester V (voice of Forte), a Steve Jobs-like CEO whose company has been contracted to clean up the massive piles of food that had rained down from the heavens.

Chester, though, is up to no good. He wants Flint's device for his own nefarious purposes. Months pass, the townsfolk scatter, and Flint goes to work at Chester's Live Corp. in Northern California. One day, his boss comes to him with a scary revelation. Somehow, Swallow Falls has been overtaken by food-animal hybrids like shrimpanzees, Fla-mangos, and the aforementioned tacodiles. Flint's invention is obviously still operational and has evolved somehow. Chester asks Flint to do what his teams have been unable to do: locate it and disable it. But all he really needs is for Flint to locate it.

From there, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" becomes a fun, PG take-off on such films as "King Kong" and "Jurassic Park." The filmmakers exhibit a sly sense of humor and a humorous sense of sly throughout. The film knows when to wink at its audience amid the absurdity and when to throw in some good old fashioned, groaningly obvious food puns to keep the hardy-har-hars coming fast and furious. Or maybe it's golden and delicious? Either way, I think you and yours will find this movie very entertaining and worth the extra outlay of cash for theaters showing it in 3-D. It's not quite the cinematic equivalent of a Gallagher comedy concert. But the food does comes flying off the screen to great comic effect.

This is not a film that embraces subtlety. The good guys are earnest and uncomplicated. The bad guy is unapologetically evil. And the message that it is import to respect life and the environment couldn't be more obvious. But it's the simplicity and the nuttiness that are the film's most admirable qualities, I think.

I will say that the film does run out of steam a bit before its big-show climax. I think the producers and writers have mined about all they can from this particular franchise after two films. There were some decent chunks of this film where it was more entertaining to pay attention to all of the little, incidental bits happening in the backgrounds of various scenes than the main action taking place between the leads in the foreground.

Swallow Falls' new ecosystem isn't completely thought-through either. When you have six- and seven-year-old kids walking out of the theater afterwards questioning the wisdom of whether leaving on a machine that is churning out new food-animal hybrids every few seconds on such a small island, how long will it be before there is no space left. And what exactly DO food-animal hybrids eat to survive? Each other? The film doesn't pose these questions. But it underestimates the questioning ability of its core fans under the age of 10 who are always asking "Why?" "How?" and "What if?"

In the end, though, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" delivers on the fun and the spectacle. At its heart, it's an adventure film and a quest flick. I give it a solid 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed September 21, 2013 / Posted September 27, 2013


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