Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013) – Directed by Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn – Starring Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Will Forte, and Kristen Schaal.
Tacodiles, Cheespiders, and Subwhales, oh my!
The first CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS is one of my favorite animated movies of the past decade. It was bright, fresh, fun, full of great characters and clever visuals. Upon my first watch of CLOUDY 2, I was impressed with the visuals but wasn’t as as enamored with the overall product as I was with the first film, so I watched it again.
And somewhere in the middle of that second watch, the film clicked for me, and the third watch was pure joy. CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2 is a fantastic movie and happily, the sequel is its own movie, with its own plot that builds on the events of the first movie without doing a rehash. CLOUDY 2 has a great message about the importance of friendship, about changing one’s dreams on the fly (a topic I have written about previously), and the positive impact of science and scientists.
Scientists are easy to paint as villains, of course, and while we see that side of the profession on CLOUDY 2, we also see a much more positive side, as well.
Picking up during the victory celebration of the first film, the citizens of Swallow Falls are visited by a hologram of Chester V (Will Forte), a world famous inventor, CEO of Live Corp, and hero of Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader). Flint had just decided to set up his own workshop alongside Sam (Anna Faris), Earl (Terry Crews), Brent (Andy Samberg), Manny (Benjamin Bratt), his dad, Tim (James Caan), and his Vervet monkey, Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), but Chester wants Flint to come work for him at Live Corp and possibly become a Thinkquanaut, one of Live Corp’s top scientists. Flint is torn, but Sam knows it’s a dream of his and she encourages him to go for it. Chester is forcing the entire town of Swallow Falls to move to San Franjose, anyway, so it is what one might call convenient.
The town has to move so Live Corp can clean up the mess created by Flint’s FLDSMDFR machine, but you’ll immediately recognize that Chester has selfish reasons for wanting them gone. While everyone thought the FLDSMDFR destroyed at the end of the first film, it’s actually continuing to function, creating “foodimals,” hybrids between food and animals. Chester wants the machine so he can produce foodimals to kill and infuse into his Food Bar products, which are the foundational product of Live Corp.
Before we get to see the foodimals up close, however, Flint has to go to work for Live Corp. Met on his first day by Barb (Kristen Schaal), an orangutan with a human brain that Chester created, and given coffee drink after coffee drink, Flint is told that he’s not eligible to become a Thinkquanaut until the next vesting ceremony, when Chester will choose one inventor to leave the basement labs and come to work in the high rise laboratories. Flint throws himself into the task, and there’s a nice sequence of watching Flint put his new inventions into practice, usually at the expense of his father.
I’ve recently reviewed both Epic and Escape from Planet Earth and liked both of them for their straightforward, relatively simple approach. CLOUDY 2 has a much more manic style. Where most movies use dialogue, exposition, and world building to set up the action sequences, CLOUDY works largely in reverse because almost every scene in the film is an action scene given how much is going on. Flint is in a state of near constant movement, and even when he’s taking a moment to catch his breath, the film isn’t, so when we do get a quiet moment, it hits with a much bigger impact.
Scenes that don’t need anything beyond what’s happening out front are given background bits or quick jokes that infuse the viewing experience with a constant barrage of clever bits. These secondary jokes come in a wide variety of form, but a typical scene occurs when Tim tells his son that, “We’re here to help. So let us,” which is immediately followed by a cut to a slice of lettuce.
These moments come so fast and so frequently that the film seems perfectly designed for our manic, multitasking approach to life. As I write this, I have my iPhone next to me delivering me a series of notifications from Twitter, Words with Friends, MLS Matchday, Bleacher Report, and from Yahoo Sports about a bunch of baseball games, some of which I’m also watching on a 4-split screen TV in front of me. I also have my email client open so I can argue with someone who thinks Days of Future Past is one of the best superhero movies ever when I wouldn’t rank it higher than the 4th best X-Men-related movie, and a tab on my browser open so I can figure out how to spend the last $25 worth of gift card money from Amazon. I can do all of these things because none of them demand my full attention.
CLOUDY 2 demands (rewards, rather) your full attention.
I’m always a fan of seeing little moments rewarded later in the narrative; it’s a technique I use in my own writing as I think it provides a good payoff for a little bit of work. In CLOUDY 2, there’s a sequence where Flint and Company are paddling down a river, taking note of all the wild new foodimals, when someone says, “What’s that?” The camera shows an anthropomorphized tomato and someone remarks, “It’s just a tomato,” and the tomato gives us a sad face. It comes off as unintentionally mean from our protagonists but it’s used to demonstrate how quickly they’ve become attuned to all of these mashed-up food/animal combos, as a living tomato with a face is now disappointing. During the final action sequence, however, this tomato gets his/her own heroic moment against Live Corp’s Sentinels. (This is two movies in a row with Sentinels. If you can only watch one, watch this one.) They use the same “there’s a leek in my vehicle” bit twice, and it’s funny the first time because I didn’t know they meant a “leek” and not a “leak” and funny the second time because I knew exactly what they meant.
It would be easy to say that CLOUDY 2 is the kind of movie where every possible idea is tossed on the screen in an attempt to overwhelm you into finding lots to like, but I don’t think that’s the case. There is a clearly defined central plot and the secondary bits (the “big rock candy mountain” line was particularly good, I thought) are built in around that to give the film balance. It’s almost like directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn have built in a “second screen” experience right into their movie. I dug it.
The real shining star of CLOUDY 2 is Sam Sparks. First, Anna Faris is brilliant, giving Sam the right mix of hopefulness, spine, enthusiasm, and intelligence. Second, the character of Sam Sparks is too good to be thought of as just a supporting girlfriend. If they do a CLOUDY 3, I hope they let Sam have the lead role. It’s Sam who figures out what’s really going on with the foodimals, both that they’re not monsters (her relationship with Barry the Strawberry is adorable) and later that foodimals don’t hate humans in general but Live Corp workers, in particular. It’s Sam who supports Flint when he is initially offered the gig with Live Corp and then later confronts him over the company not being what Flint thinks it is.
Flint finally sees what Sam means when he finds the FLDSMDFR and it creates a living marshmallow, which is quickly joined by a whole herd of marshmallows. “You’re a family,” he realizes, which doubles for the realization that he should have been listening to his own family (friends and dad, alike) instead of Chester.
The film does good work on the Flint and Chester relationship, too. As their relationship evolves, Flint comes to see that he and Chester are a lot alike. Not only are they brilliant scientists, but Chester was also bullied as a kid. In this twinning of their experiences, CLOUDY 2 neither damns nor lionizes science – it’s the individual scientist that determines whether he is good or evil, and the impact his inventions will have on the world.
I really like CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2. I think it’s an incredibly well conceived and executed film on every level. The foodimals are brilliant, the story’s message is positive, the visuals are bright and energetic, and our good guys really are good guys, even if they misstep here and there.
Here’s hoping there’s a CLOUDY 3 in our future.