The first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs achieved the rarest of feats: updating a classic children’s book as an animated feature for a modern audience without making a complete mess of the job. The fairly ridiculous story of a wild-haired inventor named Flint whose machine which turns water into food goes out of control was witty, quirky, a little over the top, and a lot of fun. And it made a boatload of cash at the box office. The sequel was an inevitability.
At least inevitable in the eyes of Sony Pictures. They decided to move forward with this project even though the gents that wrote and directed the first installment were too busy to take the reins again. So, not surprisingly, much of the wit and verve of the first film is missing from the sequel. Instead, the directors and animators just fill out every square inch of the screen with incident and some kind of oversized anthropomorphized food item. What the screenwriters (a trio that includes former Freaks and Geeks cast member John Francis Daley) do slip in are some sly digs at consumer culture that even some adults might miss.
Part two picks right up where the first film left off, when a supposedly benevolent figure named Chester V comes to help clean up the post-foodpocalyptic Swallow Falls. Voiced by former SNLer Will Forte, the character is the film’s canniest dig: a hybrid of Walt Disney and Steve Jobs that runs a huge inventing firm and drops little bits of Eastern mysticism into his speeches. His aim is to find the food-making machine and use it for his own nefarious ends. But as the device has been pumping out odd and potentially dangerous food/animal creations that have overrun the island, Chester sends in Flint and the rest of his gang to do the job for him.
The rest of the film is really an excuse to come up with as many of these edible creatures as possible. Initially there’s a delight in seeing a huge green onion combined with a brontosaurus or hamburger with a spider (itself a knock on a certain fast food chain with a vaguely Scottish name) that menaces much of the film. But as more and more of these creatures get piled onto this cinematic plate, it just becomes overwhelming. This overload extends into the pacing of this adventure, too, with manic set piece after manic set piece flying from the screen in 3D. The moments of respite, when the hero learns a lesson and grows as a person, are few and feel sometimes shoehorned in. It will be fascinating to see if any children come away with those exemplars intact or whether they just want some damn food after staring at those sumptuous moving feasts for 90 minutes.
Incredibly, though, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 still manages to charm. As with the first film, the smart casting of its voice talent (James Caan is even better as Flint’s put upon father here) certainly helps. And it manages to bring in some delightful new characters (the heart of this movie is really Chester V’s ape assistant Barb, voiced by the ever-wonderful Kristen Schaal) that don’t detract or distract. All the actors bring such joy and energy to the project that it’s hard not to get a little wrapped up in this far-fetched vision.