Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

The Voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and James Caan Star in an Animated Film Written and Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

This film version of <em>Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs</em> is all about the delicious details.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is more than just a title that gets better the more you think about it-it’s a kind of philosophical statement, as well as a perfect plot precis for this zany, smart animated film based on the kids’ book of the same name. It’s also a prime exemplar of the kind of funhouse scriptwriting we only get a glimpse at every few years if we’re lucky: rich comic writing that throws out a lot of seemingly random details, puts them in the spinner of a powerful plot, and then makes each element count hilariously as payoff. Bringing Up Baby had it; so did the Back to the Future films; The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension took the idea to hipster surreal territory; and the best Seinfeld episodes filled the small screen with jokes that were strung like firecrackers.

Here, too, though Cloudy is equally intricate to watch. Sometimes it seems more designed than animated, with lovely and abrupt juxtapositions dazzling the 3-D bespectacled eye. The film shifts from very stylized scenes to richly surrealistic tableaus of setting. It all takes place on a lonely island, where a sardine-based economy suddenly is disrupted by a young scientist whose wacky invention makes everything from hamburgers to sushi rain down on the populace. And even though the foreground of the picture is all about goofy detailing, it’s more about the little doodads-minor characters and sidekicks, like a monkey named Steve-that make this movie so engrossingly hilarious.

Forget any stupid claptrap you’ve heard about this film being another Marxist plot from the people who want to help you pay for your health care. Its only real satirical barb is set against people who set more faith in images than in what’s plainly in front of them. The rest of it is a surprisingly suspenseful adventure that pictures a “perfect storm of food,” a tornado made of spaghetti with a meatball heart. In other words, an aimless joy of a film.


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