A scientist trying to solve world hunger encounters a problem of global proportions, as food begins to fall from the sky.

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Pixar, You Got Served!

Behind you, Buzz. Watch out, Wall-E. There’s a new player in the game...

Having stumbled out of the gate with the forgettable Open Season (2006) and the enjoyable box office dud Surf’s Up (2007), Sony Pictures Animation finally deliver a film that can be considered a true contender for the artistic mantel that has been dominated by John Lassetter’s animation maestro’s for the last 15 years.

Though based in name on the 1978 children’s book by husband and wife team Judi and Ron Barrett, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has been wildly reimagined by the debutant writing/directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The book was a gentle story of a grandfather telling a sweet bedtime story to his granddaughter about a town where the weather was always food.

Barring the 'culinary climate’ angle, all the gentleness has gone, replaced by a comically frantic tale of an obsessed young inventor, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), who, with his trusted monkey-friend Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), has spent his entire life dedicated to making his wild visions a reality (two of which – a TV with legs and a rat-pigeon crossbreed – figure hilariously in the film's story). His mother Fran (Lauren Graham) was his inspiration, but her passing leaves Flint with only his gruff, insular dad Tim (James Caan) to impress, and that isn’t easy.

To remedy the ailing economy in his hometown of Swallow Falls (now so poor they must eat the one thing for which they were once famous – sardines), Flint invents the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator (pronounced 'FLDSMDFR’) – a machine that turns water into food. Accidently launched into the atmosphere, the machine is an astonishing success, the initial shower of cheeseburgers captured by rookie TV reporter Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) and beamed across the world.

Flint has his fame, a newfound if awkward love in Sam, the respect of the Swallow Falls townfolk (including Bruce Campbell’s Mayor Shelbourne and Will Forte’s redneck smartmouth Joe Towne) and the begrudging attention of his father. But all is not right – the Fldsmdfr is developing its own A.I., creating ever larger off-cuts which are soon hurtling towards the world’s great monuments and threatening to destroy mankind under a calorific onslaught from on high. Can Flint save the world from his own creation?

The wacky premise is entirely constructed to support the vividly-designed visuals and, most importantly, a wholesale barrage of impeccably-delivered sight gags. When Lord and Miller are called upon to advance the story and bring key characters into sharper focus – the two elements that are the true strengths of Pixar’s output – there is a noticeable hiccup in the film’s momentum.

But if Pixar are the modern equivalent of the sweet artistry of Walt Disney’s best, then Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is the slightly-skewy offspring of Chuck Jones and his Warner Bros. cartoons. Flint is a gentler but no less self-confident variation on Bugs Bunny, never foregoing belief in himself no matter how harebrained his schemes are or how hilariously dire the consequences. The film’s humour is grandly-staged and impossibly physical – a Wile E. Coyote / Road Runner classic, transplanted from the desert to the dessert. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs draws from the lunatic inspiration of Jones and his contemporary, Tex Avery, and is perhaps the funniest American animated film to date because of their legacy.

It must be said, however, that the film overshoots the mark with its cacophonous ending. The filmmakers indulge in their 3D toys a little too liberally to create an visually-verbose, action-filled finale that seems a strategic ploy to ensure return business amongst the under 15s (which has worked – the film has been a huge hit in the US). It was fun to watch but the film didn’t need it; the moments that were so good from the first two acts – the sharp dialogue and comic set-pieces – are missed.

There are lots of good messages that can be taken from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – follow your dreams; stay true to yourself; remember what’s most important are family and friends. All the usual ones that have puffed up kids films for a century now, and they still work and are always welcome when handled well.

But the added bonus in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is the inspired lunacy of its laughs – the big spoonful of sugar that makes the moral medicine palatable, even negligible. It is the ideal confection for the sweet-toothed youngster or the parent desperate for a guilty indulgence.

Details

PG
1 hour 30 min
In Cinemas 26 November 2009,

Genres