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Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) has always dreamed of inventing something awesome, but every one of his inventions (Spray-On Shoes, Remote Control Television, Flying Car, and ‘Ratbirds’) have led to disaster. Flint’s hometown of Swallowfalls has fallen on hard economic times, since their only real export is sardines, and as everyone knows – sardines are gross. The town mayor (Bruce Campbell) has plenty of schemes up his sleeves to make the city a quick buck, the latest of which is an all sardine themed amusement park. A weather channel intern named Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) is sent to cover the minor event. Meanwhile, Flint’s latest invention, the FLDSMDFR (Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator), which turns water into food, requires power, and in prepping his experiment he accidentally releases the device into the atmosphere, which causes food to rain down from the clouds. Now Swallowfalls has something other than sardines to be proud of, Flint has invented something truly awesome, and Sam is there to cover the whole thing.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
2009 will probably not be remembered as a particularly great year in film, but critics have already been quick to point out the general quality of those films aimed at children over the year were unnaturally strong. Pixar didn’t disappoint with Up, stop motion had two strong entries with Coraline and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and even the resident underachiever DreamWorks stepped it up with Monsters vs. Aliens. The only weak link in the major release chain is Fox’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which was still a perfectly acceptable little movie. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will go down in my mind as the year’s biggest animation shocker. The trailers were middling, the concept seemed that it was aimed a little too young, and the original source material was a very short little children’s book. If I’d done a little research before watching the film I’d know that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were the brain trust behind one of the best hidden gems of modern television animation – Clone High. But I didn’t do the research, so I was in for a huge surprise.

The film hits the ground sprinting, and it never really lets up. It’s not going to rock the foundations of animation films in the future, it doesn’t go above and beyond technologically (apparently it does, but the laymen won’t know), and it isn’t going to get any Oscar nods, but there aren’t too many films this buoyant or satisfyingly airy, for whatever that’s worth. The Muppet inspired character designs are positively delightful, and their actions are a lavish mix of Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s patented flailing puppetry, and Chuck Jones’ whip smart animation. Knowing now that the series was produced by the minds behind Clone High I can also see inspiration drawn from that show’s super simplified 2D look. But unlike the Madagascar films the speedy, wacky animation isn’t the only thing fueling the laughs, or even the chief thing (save the shoe in the eye scene). Flint’s penchant for self-narration and creating his own sound effects is never not funny, especially the bit where he tries to convince himself to ask Sam out on a date. This is only one of dozens of consistently successful running gags, like the monkey’s thoughts consisting of either his name or ‘gummy bears’, the mayor getting fatter, and the central food machine having an unpronounceable acronym. Then there’s the Marx Brothers dialogue back and forth, the potent visual spoofing of tradition, effects-heavy disaster movies, and seemingly random gags, like Flint’s sudden snowball attacks. All together this is a potent stew of laughs, the vast majority of which actually stick the landing.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
The emotional core and moral of the story isn’t particularly impressive, but does balance the overall wackiness of the story more effectively than lifeless CG animated movies like Shrek 3 or Bee Movie. The story is brimming with homage and reference, and sometimes this aspect becomes a little overwhelming (the writers/directors tease their own script’s simplicity and structure on the commentary track), but considering the aims of the project it’s hard to consider it anything short of a success. And despite the simplicity of the emotions (daddy issues, dead mom) they work when needed, in an especially Clone High-ish fashion (those that have seen the series understand the odd soap opera aspects that work better than they should). The cast surely makes the difference, since they’re often given mere seconds to run an emotional gamut, and their overall caliber really should’ve been a clue to how satisfying the final film would be.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Video


It’s hard not to notice that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was produced with 3D in mind. The images are threaten to poke your eyes out, the backgrounds are broad and full of unnecessary detail, and the colours are many and varied. This release, which is presented in 2.35:1 1080p high definition, is not 3D, polarized or otherwise, but the scale is not lost. The film is slightly more consistent stylistically than some other CG films, but there  are some relatively realistically detailed background elements peppered throughout the film, specifically stuff like earth, the wood of the pier, and (of all things) the bacon road at the end. These details are relatively well integrated with the less realistic, but equally finely textured digital wardrobes and props, and the more plastic and smooth looking skin effects. Though not always impossibly sharp, the sheer quantity of background information is much more impressive in hi-def than on the DVD copy, where little bits like flying rat birds are lost against the colourful vistas. The food-alanche in particular is overwhelmed by detail in SD, but here things are entirely free of compression noise and blocking. The colour quality and quantity is the real star, though. The film runs thematically on colour, from scene to scene, and over the entire film. Early scenes are bare and grey, and by the end of the film the pallet is set awash with pure pastels.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Audio


Once again, a big scale animated film proves most effective on the uncompressed format. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track comes super charged with a mix of big-budget disaster spoof, and old fashion cartoon sound effects, which are not-so-subtly integrated into the relative bombast. The Jell-O palace scene is (again) a good example of the sound design at its best. All five channels wiggle with effects, and as the characters leap around their bounces are directionally pin-pointed. The films latter act is pretty much a free-for-all of crashing food, crumbling buildings, and rocket car engines. The channels are consistently busy with directional and ambient effects, and the LFE is rocked pretty consistently, all without decreasing the integrity of the dialogue performances, which are also often mixed into the stereo and surround channels. And then there’s the Mark Mothersbaugh score, which is hummable and original, while still evoking the rousing feel of those goofy Hans Zimmer scores. Mothersbaugh has never done anything this big before, but he doesn’t lose his style in the more traditional symphonic performances.

Wilhelm Alert: When the giant fish bowl comes loose at about the 15 minute mark, a Wilhelm cuts loose from the crowd.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Extras


The extras start with a commentary track from writers/directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, and lead actor Bill Hader. The track is fast paced, fact filled, and generally pretty fun. Miller and Lord are the clear leaders of the track, but Hader isn’t expelled from the loop or anything. Many of the biggest inspirations will actually surprise you, including Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, of all things, and the occasional pointing out of images taken from the original book is another plus. Hader outing himself as a Bruce Campbell fanatic is probably my personal favourite moment. The film can also be watched using ‘Splat Mode’, which allows the viewer to throw a variety of animated food at the screen while the film plays. Kind of odd, but definitely an original extra, and a Blu-ray exclusive. The other Blu-ray exclusive is a 2D shooter game called ‘Flint’s Food Fight Game’, which is basically Galaga with food.

‘A Recipe For Success’ (10:50, HD) is the first of two fluffy featurettes that were shown on various cable stations to advertise the film. This covers the basics, from the original material, to the design, direction, voice acting, and animation. ‘Key Ingredients’ (12:40, HD) looks at the voice cast, and the voice acting process. I distinctly recall seeing this bit on TV. There’s not enough time with Bruce Campbell, but otherwise it’s a fun enough time. Next are two extended scenes (2:30, HD). The first scene is a rough animation bit, but the second is a finished product, elongated fight between Flint and the Mayor. These are followed by two ‘Early Development Scenes’ (5:50, HD), presented in animatic form, five progression reels with introductions from FX supervisor Rob Bredow (8:10, HD), a ‘Raining Sunshine’ music video, sing-a-long, and behind the scenes, and a series of Sony trailers.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Overall


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is, again, a massive surprise, and a perfect capper for my personal 2009 animation experience. Other fans of Clone High need to take more notice than I did and give the seemingly dull plot a whirl. It’s fluffy entertainment to be sure, and it’s not going to change your life, or even transcend its genre like so many Pixar films, but it’s still worth the time. The direct from source digital transfer is picture perfect, and the DTS-HD track is busy and full bodied. The extras are pretty much the norm for such films, but plenty entertaining on their own.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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