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The mandate of sequels tends to be bigger, bolder, and flashier. But when your first movie contained massive meatballs, gargantuan ice cream scoops, and twisters of spaghetti, how do you top that? This was the question facing Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, the directors of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. And for them the answer was simple: sentient food. In the finale of the first Cloudy, Flint Lockwood and his friends had to confront the next step in evolution of the onslaught of food that had been birthed by his FLDSMDFR (A.K.A. Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator), namely slices of pizza and gummi bears that purposefully attack! But in Lockwood's next adventure, things have gotten way wilder back at Swallow Falls with the rise of foodimals! (You can see a bunch of them above in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2's Jurassic Park-style reveal.)
Yesterday, Sony Pictures Animation held a special event in New York City, where I had a chance to mingle with Cameron and Pearn, see several scenes from the new movie, and even make some foodimals of my own. What was clear from the moment I met this directing duo was just how deeply excited they are to have their creation unveiled to the world. Cameron, Pearn, and their design team came up with 39 foodimals, including: Bananostriches, Buffaloaf, Cheespider, Eggplanatee (eggplant-manatee), Fruit Cockatiel, Hippotatomus, Meatbalrus, Mosquitoasts, PB & Jellyfish, Sasquach, Shrimpanzees, Tacodiles, Watermelophants, Wildebeets, and tribes of strawberries and pickles who end up befriending Lockwood and his crew. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take a step back to talk plot.
As they unveiled a string of nearly complete animated sequences to us, Cameron and Pearn explained Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 picks up just 60 seconds after the first ends. This is when Chester V (voiced by Will Forte), a genius inventor/entrepreneur described as a mix of Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and a circus ringmaster, descends onto Swallow Falls. He's Flint's idol, and shares his penchant for primate bffs, as he has in tow his loyal companion Barb (Kristen Schaal), an ape who talks thanks to having a human brain implanted within her ape brain. (It's like a turducken in concept, she tells us.) Chester tells the citizens of Swallow Falls to relocate to the San Franjose, California while his Live Corp company (imagine Apple meets Google meets FAO Schwarz) handles cleanup.
With Steve (Neil Patrick Harris) on his shoulder, Flint (Bill Hader) is overjoyed to get a job at Live Corp. Baby Brent (Andy Samberg), Manny (Benjamin Bratt), Earl (Terry Crews), and Sam (Anna Faris) all get new jobs on the mainland as well and life goes on…until Chester reveals the FLDSMDFR has survived and sparked the rise of these foodimals. He tells Flint that these strange and dangerous creatures are now trying to make their way off the island and must be stopped lest they destroy Lady Liberty! (She is one of the few national landmarks that wasn't splatted with giant food during the last movie.) He tasks Flint with venturing into the breakfast bog, through a jungle of foodimals, and into the hard rock candy mountain to destroy the FLDSMDFR once and for all! Of course, Flint gathers together Brent, Manny, Earl, Sam and even his dad Tim (James Caan) for this epic return to Swallow Falls!
We were shown some of the sequences mentioned above, as well as a scene where Tim's dad bonds with a bunch of pickles over a shared love of fishing. When I spoke with Cameron, I asked him why strawberries and pickle tribes so appealed to him. He told me that for the first Cloudy he had storyboarded a scene where pickles form a face around the FLDSMDFR as Flint attempts to shut it down. While that got cut, the idea of pickles stuck with him. So, when he and Pearn began brainstorming, Cameron made some models using vegetables and map pins and created little tableaus in his back yard in California.
He said he felt this gave their pitch an additional edge, and then showed me some of the pics he had taken on his cameraphone. These were shots of pickles wearing little grass skirts, shading themselves from the sun with little umbrellas made from a cocktail umbrella with the tissue paper replaced by blades of grass. I was surprised and delighted at how quickly a character can be given to a bit of vegetable with the use of some thoughtful slicing and push pins. Pearn and Cameron later coached reporters and kids alike through making their own foodimals, and it was a wonderful thing to see leeks, potatoes, marshmallows, pineapples, and cucumbers become little characters in just moments. Moreover, Pearn and Cameron's apparent delight in their work made the enthusiasm for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 contagious.
After two and a half years of development and production, the filmmakers told us that the production is right on track. Animation will be completed within the week, then lighting will be completed in about six weeks. As to design, they wanted to maintain the idea from the first film, that the food they animated would look delicious, but with the addition of sentient thought they wanted them to also have a "Muppety" sensibility. The best example of this is definitely Sam Sparks' new sidekick Barry (voiced by Cameron), a wild strawberry who is cute but causes trouble for Flint early on by swallowing the BSUSB (read: MacGuffin) he needs to shut down the FLDSMDFR. Along with a scene where Flint chases Barry through the brush and into awe-inspiring wilderness of foodimals, we were shown animation tests of walk cycles, concept art, and a brief scene made to test if Barry's look would fit into the pre-established Cloudy world. All of it looked sensational. And delicious. But we'll see whether or not audiences will bite when Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 opens September 27th.