...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Americans love food. But do they love talking food? Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 aims to find out in this animated sequel that one would have to be a child to believe. The suspension of disbelief gets challenged beyond the norm for even the rather fantastic genre of animated children’s movies in this tale about a new ecosystem made by a machine that cranks out living food.
The trouble is that, while only children could possibly enjoy this film, they are also shut out of its humor and content by a script that delivers comedy in a package only adults understand. The filmmakers’ confusion over the target audience’s identity is positive, in one respect, since the crude humor favored in Cloudy is actually inappropriate for the youngsters the jokes largely overshoot.
For Cloudy’s profit margin, however, disappointing kids and their parents is likely to result in a gloomy forecast. In weather this messy, safety-conscious parents will want to keep their kids at home.
The clever but klutzy inventor from the original Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is back and still trying to prove himself. In the opening of this sequel, Flint Lockwood tells viewers that his dream as a child and young adult was to make the world a better place. By inventing a machine that turned “weather” into food, dropping hamburgers and other foods from the sky, Flint believes he did just that. Fans of the first movie will remember that Flint’s invention got out of control and he had to truly make the world a better place (than he had just made it) by destroying his invention.
In the process, Flint recognizes that he made something more important than a successful invention—he made friends. Indeed, Flint’s enemy, a bully named Brent, even became his pal, while the father who had always disapproved of Flint’s science obsession finally learned to understand and support his son.
At last, life seems fulfilling for Flint. He has friends and a father who love him. He even has career prospects, as he’s about to start a company where he and his new girlfriend, a meteorologist named Sam Sparks, plan to work together. Then Flint’s childhood hero, the iconic scientist Chester V, appears and invites Flint to work at the famous company, Live Corp.
Flint’s friends and family agree that this opportunity is too good to pass up. The gang won’t have to be parted, since the people of the entire town are told that they must evacuate while Live Corp conducts a large-scale clean-up of the food disaster aftermath. Flint and his companions are relocated to Sanfranjose, California where they begin their new jobs.
Flint soon finds a new goal. He wants to be chosen as a “thinkquanot”—a super scientist recognized by Chester V himself for a remarkably brilliant invention. Flint has six months to submit inventions to the competition, and he diligently applies himself to creating his best ideas yet. He expects to win and plans for the day. What he doesn’t expect is that he will soon be assigned to return home and destroy the food-creating invention he thought he had decommissioned once before.
Live Corps’ mission on the island keeps failing, and Chester V realizes that Flint is his only hope to complete the objective. Flint and his friends return to their island town only to discover that it has changed beyond recognition. The atmosphere itself has transformed into a new ecosystem that can support the strange life forms that populate the island. Live food that behaves and looks like animals (some like humans) becomes the primary concern for the band of adventurers that have to make the long trek to Flint’s machine, which is creating these monsters.
Yet this journey will require more than facing rabid cheese spiders and angry tortillas. It will test Flint’s priorities, his understanding of right and wrong, and his lifelong admiration for his hero. In the end, idols topple, monsters are rendered harmless, and more enemies become friends.
The latter list of messages seems enormously positive. Perhaps if Cloudy stayed focused only on communicating these themes through a powerful story, the forecast for kids viewing this movie could be brighter. The reality, however, is that the party gets rained on by a downpour of off-color humor that washes away any laudable messages.
Among Flint’s friends, for example, there is plenty of material for crude comedy. Brent’s chicken costume is stripped at one point, and he is shown wearing only a “diaper.” In answer to another character’s comment that he’s glad Brent at least has a diaper on, Brent says he wishes he would have brought a “fresh one,” suggesting that he has wet his current diaper while fleeing from an aggressive cheeseburger. One character frequently refers to his chest hairs, which viewers see moving under his shirt as the hair “goes crazy” to alert them to danger.
Similarly unpleasant moments include a monkey writing with a “brown crayon” (apparently supposed to be feces) and a sign getting momentarily stuck in Brent’s buttocks (he’s fully clothed at the time). More bathroom humor gets an extended showing in a sequence in which Flint and Chester hang from their stretchy underwear (Flint says he named his “wedgie poop underwear”) to retrieve a necessary item for their quest from a deep cavern. The underwear pops out again later in the picture, when Chester grabs Flint’s and stretches it over the hapless scientist’s head.
The film crosses the line of safe content even more emphatically with two other scenes: Flint’s male friend bizarrely wears a woman’s dress for his job at a cupcake shop in a disturbing transgender joke, while another sequence features the talking monkey saying “hot” in reference to a drink and earning a “not too bad yourself, monkey” response from a woman passing by.
The slapstick that one might expect from such a picture is also heavily present. In this case, the term “slapstick” seems quite literal, since much of the film’s violence takes the form of characters slapping each other in the face. Viewers are invited to laugh in one scene as the monkey gets repeatedly shocked because of a malfunctioning invention. Parents who brave this film will also have to deal with a strawberry “passing” a USB that it swallowed, repeated uses of the almost-obscenity “crapballs,” ongoing humor centered on a man’s obesity, a “comedic” moment about a character passing gas, and the hidden joke of calling the villain’s diabolical USB a “BS USB.”
Thankfully, some of this damaging comedy will be missed by young viewers because it is packaged in such a way as to be only fully understood by adults. That said, kids will still likely comprehend many of the jokes in part, enough to absorb some of the harm if not the humor. At the same time, adults are not likely to enjoy the film themselves since the rest of the story is extremely simplistic, yet so incredibly unbelievable that it can lose the older audience.
The concept of food coming to life and behaving like wild animals or primitive people is, to be sure, excellent material for the creativity often found in animated productions. In this case, however, there are so many questions left unanswered, so many chasms of logic in the creation of this imaginative world that a viewer can begin to feel as if his or her brain needs to be checked at the door before watching this movie.
Nevertheless, the animators shine in their chance to animate this incomprehensible world. Mangos look like flamingos, potato hippos float to the top of the water, and pickles walk around like little boys. The color of this crazy live-food island pops, while the elements that are supposed to be more real, such as water and trees, are excellently animated, as well.
A strong story, however, is needed to give true life and meaning to animation. In this case, the world that could have been a piece of creative genius is rendered too one-dimensional and incomplete to engage viewers’ imaginations. Characters with depth, a more complicated plot, and new themes (rather than repeats from the first Cloudy) are basic elements lacking in this movie that could have greatly improved its entertainment value, if not also correcting its lack of positive content.
The best aspect of the film comes with the father-son relationship between Flint and his dad. Even this uplifting content is slightly tarnished by the depiction of the father as a bit of a simpleton, at times.
The animation may be easy on the eyes and Flint may learn a positive lesson in the end, but pretty pictures and a recycled message about the importance of friends (and transformation of enemies into friends) doesn’t provide enough sunshine to banish the clouds of this film.