2009 might very well have been the best ever year for animated films. Pixar produced the Oscar winner with the beautifully told and very emotional Up, Disney started to rediscover their old magic with The Princess and the Frog and elsewhere we were treated to Fantastic Mr Fox, Coraline and The Secret of Kells. One that went under the radar for a lot of people including me was a crazy little CG animated movie called Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Adapted from a 1978 book by Judi Barrett the story surrounds Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) a young scientist with a mad imagination for invention (spray-on shoes, monkey thought translator, ratbirds). His latest crackpot contraption is a machine that turns water into food which he accidentally launches into the stratosphere where it draws in cloud matter and produces gastronomic rain. With chirpy weather girl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) reporting these extraordinary events to the world it starts to look like Flint’s invention could end up rejuvenating the failing economy of his island home town Swallow Falls with tourism but with meal requests flooding in from the townsfolk there’s a danger that he might lose control of the machine.
The amount of fun that’s had with the concept is an absolute joy from the superbly realised first dramatic food storm onwards. Expect nacho cheese hot springs, an open-air steakhouse where meat lands on people’s plates and in one standout scene a snow day of ice cream. But the bonkers doesn’t end with the only-possible-in-animation concept. Where some toons are nutty Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is absolutely out of its mind, the insane story enhanced by a bat-shit crazy script and colourful cast of cooks and the results are hilarious. Every joke is expertly prepared, timed and executed and if you’ve even a shred of humour you’ll be laughing out loud all the way through.
Much of it is achieved by the excellent voice cast who bring perky life to the characters, among them Mr T as an athletic cop and doting father. Anna Faris brings the right kind of cute to the smarter-than-she-seems weather reporter while Bill Hader makes Flint Lockwood into one of the great cartoon heroes, a genius whose overenthusiasm is his undoing, hiding a naiveté brought out in little moments. His struggle to win his dad’s approval is formulaic but played well but it’s his sheer breathless determination that makes him shine.
It’s a real surprise of a film, bursting with colour, loaded with visual gags and digs at movie clichés and full of completely crackers ideas, pun intended. One minute you’ll see a giant jelly castle, the next there’ll be a man wearing an oversized cooked chicken but it’s paced sensibly and never overwhelms offering little character-driven sub-plots to allow it some quieter moments of conflict. A good thing too because if the film was nothing but shots of foodstuff falling from the sky into eager children’s open mouths it might have got a bit much building up to the cataclysmic ending. So much effort and love has clearly gone into every aspect of the film’s creation that it deserves a lot more attention than it ever received.
Possibly the most brilliantly bonkers animated fun-fest of the last ten years but if subtlety’s your thing you might want to look elsewhere. Your loss.