Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Short-order Weather: CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (2009)

I held off on seeing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs when it was first released. It looked loud and frantic and 3D to boot, not at all what I wanted to see happen to a sweetly whimsical, albeit mostly plotless, picture book about a small town that finds itself the center of a most unusual weather pattern that precipitates food. The mostly lukewarm critical reaction confirmed my suspicions and I stayed away despite the intriguing positive statements from a handful of trusted sources. I recently caught a screening (in 2D, just fine for me) of the movie at my local dollar theater and have been in disbelief ever since that the movie isn’t at all what I thought it was. Instead of an aggressively banal example of non-Pixar computer animation, it’s one of the best times I’ve had at the movies in 2009, a sheer delight from beginning to end. It’s a sprightly and energetic film with nonstop (often running) gags and jokes that are actually funny, never just quickly stale pop culture references. It’s unashamedly a cartoon, think more Looney Tunes than Snow White, with appealingly rubbery visuals. It’s a bouncy, energized, stylized slapstick motion machine that refused to slow down too often, not even to let me catch my breath between laughs.

The opening credits announce, in the location usually reserved for the director’s name, that the movie is “A Film By A Lot of People” and so, fittingly, I have much praise to lavish upon the talented people who created such a great time. The directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, do a fine job helming such a meticulous endeavor as a computer animated film and making it seem effortless and spontaneous. As the movie rockets forward it becomes a good-natured parody of disaster movie clich├ęs, all the funnier for appearing in multiplexes so close to 2012. The unobtrusive celebrity voice work, rather than distracting, actually compliments the story with such funny people as Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T and Andy Samberg proving they are wonderfully expressive comedians even when restricted to voice only. The cast carries the rapid-fire vocal comedy as a team of capable animators provide the adorable squishy textures and rounded shapes of the characters and setting, creating a convincing cartoon universe with beautiful food-covered vistas popping with gorgeous colors and sparkling light.

Only stepping back from the experience do I start to realize that the plot itself, including the Big Lesson to be gleaned, is hardly new (though the “it’s good to be smart” message is certainly welcome) and the emotions evoked don’t go quite as deep as Pixar has conditioned us to expect. But that’s not what the filmmakers wanted to do here, was it? This is a movie that doesn’t tread entirely unfamiliar ground in its arc and yet spins wildly inventive imagery and versatile humor around it. None of the small doubts I have ultimately take away from the experience of seeing the movie in action which creates a state of bliss so complete that’s it’s hard to shake. And why would you want to shake off a feeling so good?

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