Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Imagine the smile once he stops staring and actually eats the burger!

Golden Mug

Animated Film

Theatrical Release Date: 09/18/2009
Directors: Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Featuring the Voices of: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Mr. T, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt, Al Roker, Lauren Graham, Will Forte

Judging a film by its trailer is an occupational hazard. I see so many a year that my ability to decipher probable enjoyment from that minute and a half is bordering on Nostradamus levels. But even he got a lot wrong and such is the case with my pre-estimation of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”.

The ad being shown in theaters and on TV gives off the air of any other children’s book turned 3D film. After a string of adult fare, I was simply looking for a pleasant diversion and sat down in my seat with my special glasses in hand, awaiting 90 minutes of mediocre story telling and mild laughter.

What I got, however, were some of the most entertaining moments in film so far this year and an animated film aimed well enough at both kids and adults to rival Pixar’s “Up” (and their films are usually better than any other big studio animation, hands down).

Based on the Judi and Ron Barrett novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Flint Lockwood. A perpetual dreamer, he aspires to be the next great inventor and has spent his whole life coming up with grandiose plans … to varying success.

Living on a small island, known for its sardine fishing, the townspeople’s palettes are screaming out for something more. Flint’s big break comes when he invents a machine capable of turning water into food. Of course, not everything goes according to plan and hijinks ensue.

It is within the eccentric and endearing characters that the film’s humor and heart take flight. The voice cast does a very nice job of imbuing everyone with distinct and enjoyable personalities. While Bill Hader and Anna Faris are the leads and do quite well, it’s the supporting cast that elevate the film to that next level.

Mr. T is the perfect person to play the town cop, with an extrasensory anticipation of wrong-doing and an overzealous desire to maintain peace and order. Neil Patrick Harris may not have a lot of lines as the voice behind Steve the Monkey’s thought translator (one of Flint’s more successful inventions), but he make the most of it and something I’d love to call for on the DVD is a short film centered around Steve and his love of gummi bears (the scene in the film had me nearly out of my seat in awe and laughter).

Now we come to the Mayor of the town, whose self-esteem is only outmatched by his ability to eat all that Flint’s invention can drum up, wonderfully voiced by the legendary Bruce Campbell. His smarmy charm comes through like a shotgun blast and adds to the film’s already excellent layers.

I know it sounds a little like film snobbery but one of the elements that directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller managed to sneak in without being preachy are a number of film homages and allusions. Those of you who love to spot those things will be inundated but thankfully everyone else will simply enjoy the ride.

Now, there are reasons that after all this gushing that I’m not giving the film a perfect score. First, while the film’s art direction is fine overall, I did find the overly large eyes of the characters to feel a little bit like cheating when it comes to establishing a connection with the audience. It may have been more a stylistic choice than emotional meddling but that’s how it played to me.

Next, I’ve gotten tired of nearly every animated film using the dead mother plot device as a way to make the main character vulnerable and endearing. (Disney basically started this but everyone else has followed suit.) There are plenty of other plot points that would be found right next to cliché in the dictionary and they all add up to keeping the central story from feeling in any way original (the characters separate this from your average schlock).

And while this isn’t necessarily another reason I refrained from adding another point to the rating, the 3D in the film is utterly useless. None of the environment gained an appreciable sense of depth and there are numerous ‘throw things at the camera’ gags that did nothing to raise my excitement level about using the third dimension in nearly every kids film these days.

Still, even with those reservations, I wholeheartedly recommend “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” to anyone who enjoys animated fare and laughing, happily bestowing the film with a 4 out of 5. You shouldn’t spend the extra cash to see it in its lackluster 3D, but if you’re looking for a fun flick to catch, this is the one this weekend.