I adore Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s adaptation of the classic children’s book is one of the most unexpected and successful book adaptations of the past several years. Most movies based on children books are belabored, tiresome affairs, and Cloudy turned the simple idea of food falling from the sky into a weird, adorable, and hilarious animated comedy. It set an incredibly high bar for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, but new directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn have come close to giving us a movie as wonderful as the original. Everything that made the first Cloudy a success is still in place, even though there’s more reliance on some cheap gags. The sequel has cemented the identity of the series even though the story leaves some residual guiltiness about being a carnivore.
Picking up right where the first movie left off, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is ready to build a science-based theme park, “Sparkswood”, on his tiny island of Swallow Falls with girlfriend and meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), security guard Earl (Terry Crews), bully-turned-friend Brent (Andy Samberg), Flint’s dad (James Caan), and talking monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris). But before they can even begin, famous scientist and Flint’s childhood hero Chester V (Will Forte) comes charging in under the guise of cleaning up the leftovers and to offer Flint a job at Chester’s science utopia, Live Corp. But Flint is soon called back in to shutdown the food-creating FLDSMDFR, which has turned back on and is creating food-animal hybrids. Flint and his friends return to Swallow Falls to stop the FLDSMDFR and prevent the “foodimals” from escaping to the mainland.
The story hits the ground running while still holding true to the spirit of the first movie. Even though Flint briefly leaves behind his friends (with the exception of Steve) to go to Live Corp, his enthusiasm is infectious. It’s such a delightfully silly environment where the building is shaped like a giant light bulb and the employees need caffeine patches to stay sharp. It’s almost a little of a letdown to see Flint leave Live Corp because it gives him room to come up with crazy inventions and for the story to lovingly mock nerds. But Flint ultimately needs his friends, and their presence gives the film its sweetness as they travel to a completely reimagined Swallow Falls.
The script doesn’t try to hide the influence of Jurassic Park as the wild foodimals inspire a sense of awe. But they also inspire a sense of “awwwwwww”. The breakthrough character is Barry, a wide-eyed strawberry who speaks in adorable gibberish. Also, because Cameron and Pearn understand the humor of the first movie, they’re unafraid to throw in some bizarre, potentially off-putting jokes like Flint screaming for an extended period when encountering Barry for the first time. It’s such a strange moment that could easily alienate the audience, but the first movie went for those kinds of laughs, and I couldn’t be happier that Cameron and Pearn kept that sense of humor.
For the most part, Cameron and Pearn avoid copying jokes from the original, and instead look to recapture the tone. There are plenty of jokes that kids will enjoy (there were lots of laughs from the young audience members at my screening), but Cloudy 2 is the blessed animated family comedy that throws in plenty of jokes for the adults. When Chester V. hands Flint a “BSUSB” to shutdown the FLDSMDFR, the kids in the audience probably won’t get the joke about the device’s name, but adults will get a kick out of it. Also, the humor isn’t mutually exclusive, and everyone can appreciate the endearing silliness on display. The only times when the comedy falters is when it relies too heavily on fart/poop jokes, and by showing that Brent doesn’t have much to do since most of his dialogue is his catchphrase “Uh oh!”
There’s also an odd theme that emerges as the movie progresses. The overarching theme is about trusting your friends rather than trusting your idols, but there’s also a separate, strange subtext about vegetarianism. Almost every foodimal on the island is charming, and most of them are fruits, vegetables, or non-meat products like marshmallows. We eat these foods without a second thought because they’re not alive. But we wouldn’t eat them if they were cute and cuddly, so why do we eat food that comes from actual cute and cuddly animals? I have to admit I felt a little guilty about eating meat after seeing the film. I quickly got over it, and the movie doesn’t chastise the audience, but there is a notion of being careful what you eat because what you eat has feelings.
But this takes a backseat to celebrating friendship, and the lowbrow humor is dwarfed by the brilliant comedy Pearn and Cameron along with screenwriters John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein have delivered. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 has established and defined what will hopefully be a long franchise full of oddball characters, a lot of heart, and moments like talking pickles learning the finer points of fishing for sardines.