With the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan. Directed by Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Rated PG for brief mild language. 81 minutes.
For kids who measure their ages in single digits and halves, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS has a lot going for it. Based on a picture book of the same name, it is a 3D movie that is – more or less – about playing with your food. What’s not to like? Jumping on Jell-O. Steak falling from the sky. Dueling with Gummi Bears. The problem is what happens when you hit the big “One-Oh” and suddenly such childishness isn’t as amusing.
The story is set on a self-contained island whose major product is sardines. “Baby” Brent (voice of Andy Samberg) is the model for the logo, although he has grown up and out. Young Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) believes there’s more to life than fish, even though his father (James Caan) runs the local bait and tackle shop. Flint is an inventor and his latest invention converts water into whatever type of food you want. It’s soon hovering over the island, raining down hot dogs, mac and cheese, pasta, and a variety of other products.
Is this a good thing? For a while it seems great making Flint more popular than Brent, although Flint’s dad – who sees fishing as a metaphor for life – is less than impressed. It even looks like the nerdy Flint might win the girl, weather reporter Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), sent there to cover the strange meteorological activity. Yet the device seems to be changing and getting out of control, with the food growing big and the storms becoming more frequent. It will get messy before the final fadeout.
This film from Sony Pictures Animation shows why Pixar remains the gold standard of contemporary animation. Where “Up” had a story that appealed – in different ways – to all ages, this is very much a kid’s film. It’s loud and filled with slapstick, and the “sensitive” moments are plodding and obvious. The characters may be shown in 3D but they’re flat. Where movies like “Up” and “Ratatouille” make us care for their heroes, the characters here lack substance. Flint’s longing for his father’s love is a plot point, nothing more.
As for the visuals, it’s important to note that, once again, the 3D effects are utterly unnecessary (much as they’ve been in almost every 3D movie released in the current craze). They may be vivid, but it would like just as good in traditional 2D animation without the bother of wearing those glasses. It’s a gimmick, nothing more, and viewers should be wary of paying extra for it. It simply isn’t worth it.
“Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs” is perfectly okay for children. Its messages of hard work, taking responsibility for your actions even when things go wrong, and looking out for other people are all wholesome and exemplary. The antics with giant foodstuffs will even seem amusing to them. However parents are advised to flip a coin, with the loser having to take the youngsters to go see it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.