THE FOLLOWING IS A REPRINT OF THE REDBLOG REVIEW OF CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS. THE MOVIE IS NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD FOR RENTAL FROM REDBOX.
With perfect screwball execution from Bill Hader and Anna Faris–and some help from the funniest talking monkey ever voiced by Neil Patrick Harris–Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a refreshingly hilarious, charmingly loose, goofball lark, and some of the most giggling fun I’ve had in the theater all year.
Admit it: we all get a little worn down by what is now the non-stop
deluge of animated kids films. And as many parents can attest, if you
have young kids or—in my case—a young niece and nephew, you cannot
escape seeing way too many of them. Usually more than a dozen times.
So I’m here to tell you that the buzz is true: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
is a low-impact, lotta-laughs delight. No, it’s not a rich, arty,
thoughtful, and aesthetically gorgeous Pixar movie. No, it’s not a
snarky, pop-culture riff-fest like a Shrek movie. No, it’s not the non-stop middle-of-the-road Looney-Tunes slapstick of the Ice Age series. Of course all of those have their considerable charms (and weaknesses), but Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs somehow feels both less and more.
It’s not fancy. The character and art designs are pretty standard
and cartoonish. It has a few “lessons” for hugging and learning, but
they don’t pack much emotional wallop once you leave the theater. And
it doesn’t arrive on a deluge of marketing overkill and fast-food
tie-ins. (Or if it did, I remained blissfully unaware of it.)
Instead, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is just plainly,
simply funny. Funny ha-ha, funny strange, funny sly for the adults,
funny goofy for the kids. It’s fast-paced and silly, but never feels
manic or forced. It may have some uneven spots, but it always comes off
happy and natural, instead of like a corporate memo about What Kids
Want to See. It mines the same tone as some of the better cable
cartoons of the past decade or so, the ones aimed at clever, weird,
goony kids who get a lot more than we sometimes think—shows like Cartoon Planet with Space
Ghost and Brak, The Powerpuff Girls, Cow and Chicken, Dexter’s Laboratory, and yes, the king of them all, Spongebob Squarepants. It also reminded me (the guy in his 40s) of the sort of smart, loopy vaudeville punch of the old Muppet Show.
A lot of the credit goes to the directors of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,
Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Sure, the film is adapted from the beloved
kids book by Ron and Judi Barrett, but Lord and Miller—veterans of How I Met Your Mother and the Clone High
animated MTV show—clearly know how to orchestrate the sort of inspired
lunacy that pleases all ages without ever seeming like it’s trying too
But let’s also give a huge hand to the voice leads, Bill Hader (SNL, Superbad) and Anna Faris (The House Bunny).
Hader plays Flint, the young, failing inventor who’s losing streak
comes to an end when he creates a machine that turns atmospheric
moisture into fast-food manna from the heavens. (A godsend for the
island town of Swallows Falls, where the local sardine industry has
gone belly up.) And Faris is Sam, the spunky weather reporter who
learns to stop hiding her brains and let her geek flag fly.
Once Flint and Sam get together, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
really starts cooking. (What? You thought I’d get through this without
a bad food pun?) Both Hader and Faris are deft comedic talents who know
how to hold back, interact, and underplay their reactions for a more
lasting, deeper chuckle. They get that it’s not all about
Jim-Carrey/Mike Myers-style fireworks where a comic actor turns the
shtick up to 11 without ever meshing with his or her fellow vocal
In Meatballs, Hader and Faris have a delightful chemistry
that quickly takes on the rat-a-tat rhythms of a classic screwball
comedy’s banter. (Someone needs to pair them in a live-action rom-com
immediately.) No doubt some of us will be enjoying this flick for years
on child-demanded DVD repeats—when you do, listen to how perfectly
Hader and Faris work with one another, delivering well-timed drop-in
The rest of the Meatballs voice cast is
also top-notch, including James Caan as Flint’s emotionally bunched up,
sardine-fishing father; Andy Samberg as the town’s
far-too-big-for-his-diapers former baby star; Bruce Campbell as the
ever-widening mayor; and Benjamin Bratt as a laconic Jack-of-all-trades
cameraman. Best of all are Mr. T as the town cop with a fatherly badge
of gold, and Neil Patrick Harris as Steve—a monkey who talks… kinda.
All of this is in support of exactly the sort of inherently
disgusting premise that kids love. After all, while a pizza rain may
sound yummy, just think of the rot! The vermin! The choking hazards!
And of course when science tampers with Mother Nature (and Julia Child)
things get increasingly out of hand— by the end Flint and Sam are
trying to save the town from the Wrath of Food. Serving up a food fight
of epic proportions, the movie wastes no opportunity to amusingly stick
it to every disaster-movie convention from the Roland Emmerich canon (Independence Day, Godzilla, Day After Tomorrow, 2012).
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs barrels ahead with perfectly immature inventiveness and off-the-cuff absurdity—who cares if it looks
fairly run-of-the-mill when it’s this much fun? Of all the children’s
films of late, it best captures that deadpan ridiculousness little kids
themselves toss out effortlessly. (In fact, long before the film came
out, my own nephew had a stuffed monkey he named Stevie.)
Pixar needn’t look over its shoulder at the Oscars–Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is no masterpiece of children’s animation. But as lovely and moving as Up was, I giggled non-stop at Meatballs.
After all, talking dogs and a zeppelin battle are nice and dazzling,
but some days you’re really in the mood for a talking monkey, a giant
yellow Jell-O palace, and a spaghetti twister.