This book has eluded me from childhood to present, and I've taken some criticism for it. I was actually more predisposed to enjoying Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs because it's written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the guys behind the short-lived but ever-awesome Clone High series. I don't give a crap how different it looks from the warm, hand-drawn pages, or that the story has to warp itself immeasurably to fill an hour and a half. When I watch a children's movie (that isn't some heavy-handed shit like Sooner), I want jokes that don't pander and visuals that don't bore. I could tell you how much I liked it right here, but then you wouldn't read on.
On the teensy island of Swallow Falls, sardines are an overwhelming influence on the way people eat, work, and think. Society at large eventually rejects the sardine as "super gross," and the citizens of Swallow Falls are forced to cope with this loss of income and food variety. This downfall is inspiration to Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), a lifelong scattershot inventor; one on the cutting edge of "water-molecule-to-food-particle" transformation. He uses this technology, against the wishes of bushy-browed father Tim (James Caan), to make rainclouds precipitate with tasty treats, instead of the usual moisture. Struggling to report on this event is weathergirl intern Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), a nerd in a hottie's body. Initially put off by Flint for causing her televised humiliation, she quickly "sparks" up a romance with him. (This film does not shy away from puns.)
The town around them becomes overwhelmed with the infinite menu raining from the sky, and soon changes its name to Chewandswallow; the town's Mayor Shelbourne (Bruce Campbell) has big sights and a big appetite for this change. He plans on making the city a tourist attraction, inviting hundreds of visitors to an opening-day affair. And get this...things go wrong. Other players that factor into the story include Sam's cameraman and more, Manny (Benjamin Bratt), Flint's monkey-with-a-thought-projector Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), supercop Earl Devereaux (Mr. T) and son Cal (the under-utilized Bobb'e J. Thompson), and once popular man-child Baby Brent (Andy Samburg).
That's a load of gooey talent filling up this doughnut. To be quick and true, this means that there's a hole somewhere in here that is pretty airy, and that's what keeps it from being a truly great movie, rather than just a really enjoyable one. But there's no faulting this cast. Collectively, they do a great job delivering on the promise of a surprisingly smart, witty script. Bill Hader is excellent as an essentially ageless boy with a science set. The relationships between him and his father, as well as with Sam, are both kind of trite, and have been covered better in other movies. Not to take from Caan and Faris themselves, because they're both spot on, as well as their animations. Tim Lockwood is allowed an eyebrow and a mustache to convey emotions, and it works. Bruce Campbell and Mr. T are as broad as you think they'll be. And of course, Andy Samburg is Andy Samburg, just without the potty mouth.
I could talk for quite a while about the animation, which is always cartoony but gets all the details right. The commentary states that the background artists soon realized that oddball touches were being allowed into the movie, so almost every frame is crammed with a staggering amount of characters, foods, and throwaway gags in all corners of the screen. It begs to be watched several times, assuming you enjoy it the first go around. I can imagine many of the subtler jokes slipped by unnoticed in 3-D on the big screen. A movie this vibrant should never have dulled edges. The scenes and jokes geared towards this element feel natural, so there's really no downside.
This plot is really stuffed. After a brisk opening complete with disco-tronic fonts, no time is wasted in getting to falling food, followed by disaster after disaster. Every time the heroes arrive at a solution, it's quickly ripped away and the story yanked in a different direction. It almost feels too busy in this respect, but I rather admire the audacity. I find no reason not to recommend this to anyone of any age, though I know it won't please everyone in the same way. But here's a plus to add to the pile: a killer Mark Mothersbaugh score. Here's another: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs completely avoids pop-culture references (margin of error of one). It's unpredictably refreshing, since the norm for comedic entertainment these days is to name-check anything and everything for laughs. The jokes here are all mostly organic and mid-brow. Laugh at it.
I got a really crappy one-disc edition, which didn't have shit on it besides a commentary with the two directors and Hader. It was really good, as animation commentaries tend to be, and these guys are kind of silly to begin with. They talk about turning the book into something bigger, with the original authors behind it all the way. Hader talks about not meeting Bruce Campbell. Comedic riffage is made. Other than that, a load of previews and a short ad about feeding people in other parts of the world. The two-disc is the way to go for purchase.