Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (UK - BD)
Chris checks out the Sony Blu-ray Disc release of this recent animated movie...
Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) has always dreamed of becoming an awesome inventor, but so far his creations—Spray-On Shoes, Remote Control Television, Flying Car, Hair-Unbalder, and the ill-advised ‘Ratbirds’—have always ended in disaster. Once the centre of the sardine industry, Flint’s island town of Swallow Falls has fallen on hard times since the world at large unanimously decided that sardines are, well, gross. The town mayor (Bruce Campbell) decides to take unilateral action and builds a sardine-themed amusement park aimed at bringing tourists to the island, but when Flint's latest invention—the FLDSMDFR (Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator)—malfunctions and destroys Sardine Land, he finds himself on the run from an angry mob. It is then that he meets weather channel intern Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), who is on the island to cover the event, and together they witness the unexpected effects of the FLDSMDFR—it starts raining cheeseburgers over Swallow Falls! Soon everything from hot-dogs and steaks to pizza and ice cream begins raining down on the amazed residents of the newly-christened 'Chewandswallow' and Flint goes from outcast to local hero. However, all Flint really wants is Sam's love and the respect of his father, Tim (James Caan).
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is proof-positive that you shouldn't dismiss films on account of the their trailers. I can't say I was particularly interested in this slice of animation after catching said trailer at the cinema, but positive word of mouth and a Blu-ray check disc from Sony convinced me to give it whirl. I'm glad I did, because Cloudy is one of the funniest animated films I've seen in quite some time. Although clearly geared towards the younger audience with its bright colours and stylised cartoon characters, there is much for adults to enjoy. There are some great one-liners and a number of genuinely hilarious visual gags, referencing everything from The Wizard of Oz and The Twilight Zone to The Perfect Storm and War of the Worlds. The voice acting is great, particularly from Bill Hader, and the sound of Flint rushing around accompanied by his own sound effects never gets old. Bruce Campbell is always worth the price of admission and I was amazed to hear the dulcet tones of Mr. T cropping up as the town cop. I don't know what it says about me that the most consistent source of amusement was Flint's simian sidekick, Steve, but I found the random interjections about gummi bears and constant repetition of his own name hilarious. It's true that Cloudy doesn't have the emotional impact of something like WALL-E, but it's a different sort of film and for my money it's definitely worth checking out if you're in the market for a fun family feature.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs arrives with a 2.40:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) that looks very nice indeed. Viewers will no doubt be accustomed to the slightly glossy look that accompanies animated features on Blu-ray Disc, and Cloudy is no exception. It’s not the sort of razor-sharp transfer one might expect—meaning that detail is good rather than exemplary—but this slight softness appears to be an intentional stylistic choice, rather than a side-effect of excessive filtering. The animation isn’t as advanced as your average Pixar film either, but it has a definite cartoon charm to it that suits the overall tone of the picture. The most impressive element of the transfer is probably the incredibly varied colour palette, which looks marvellous on Blu-ray (even if it doesn't 'pop' quite like certain animated movies). As one might expect from a digital feature, the image is very clean. I didn't spot any distracting artefacts in motion, and even examining the screen captures up close there's not much to complain about. To summarise, Cloudy reminds me of something like Kung Fu Panda, in that it's a great looking animated title that just misses out on top-tier honours.
Sony delivers an extremely lively DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 affair for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ primary audio track. You know you're in for a treat right from the get-go, as all five channels come alive with music and discrete effects like rainfall, the sound of the school bell ringing, and children pouring out of the classroom. As we get further into the action the effects ramp up, with Flint's varied and odd machines producing all manner of weird and wonderful noises. Even so, the score continues to dominate the track, and apart from one particularly tinny piece of music it does a pretty nice job. Bass is employed to good effect during numerous scenes, especially the climactic 'perfect food storm' sequence, when giant hot-dogs, spaghetti twisters, and the huge food avalanche all provide the sub with a good workout. Voice acting is good and dialogue remains clear and crisp, and there's even a subtle Wilhelm scream thrown into the mix for good measure. On balance I'd have to say that the soundtrack just eclipses the visuals as the disc's stand-out element.
Sony has furnished this Blu-ray release with a fair selection of bonus material, and as is increasingly becoming the norm for animated features, they've even thrown in a DVD version of the feature for the kids to use and abuse while the Blu-ray copy remains safely locked away. I'm a much bigger fan of BD/DVD combos than the useless Digital Copies that come with most releases nowadays, because DVD is far more flexible and unencumbered by silly DRM.
Audio Commentary: The commentary track features lead actor Bill Hader and the writing/directing team of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord. The track moves along at a fairly brisk pace and has a light-hearted tone, and there's plenty of silliness peppered in amongst the factual information. I wouldn't say it's the best commentary track I've heard recently, but it is a lot of fun.
Splat Mode!: This mode allows you to throw a variety of virtual food at the screen while you watch the film. I'm sure younger kids will love this, but it didn't do a whole lot for me.
Flint's Food Fight Game: This is a cute little Space-Invaders style arcade game that has Flint taking to the skies to fight against the FLDSMDFRby defeating waves-upon-wave of foodstuffs. There are even gummi bear bonus rounds! To be honest, while this is fun in the short term it's hardly likely to challenge anyone over the age of ten (and that's being optimistic), and if you're using anything other than a PS3 the controls can be a little fiddly.
A Recipe for Success: The Making of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (10:51 HD): This short featurette includes interviews with the creators and principal cast, in which they discuss the film's premise and talk a little bit about the creative process. As you might have guessed from the running time, it's not the most in-depth making of ever, but it packs quite a lot in considering.
Key Ingredients: The Voices of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (12:39 HD): As you might have guessed from the title, this featurette concerns the film's voice cast. There are plenty of interviews with the cast and crew, along with behind-the-scenes footage of the recording sessions. If nothing else, this featurette confirmed my suspicions that Mr. T is slightly mad.
Extended Scenes (02:36 HD): Next up we have two extended scenes, which can be viewed consecutively or individually. The first scene isn't fully-rendered, but it's still cute, and the second scene basically adds a 'food fight' to the showdown with the Mayor.
Early Development Scenes (05:47 HD): There are two development scenes included in hand-drawn animatic form, complete with voice-over. They differ from the completed film quite a bit, so they're definitely worth watching.
Progression Reels with Introductions by Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Bredow (08:09 HD): The VFX supervisor introduces five short featurette that cover things like colour palette, lighting, cloud simulation, spaghetti twister animation, and the 'foodalanche' sequence. I'm not normally one for VFX featurettes, but these made for fascinating viewing.
Miranda Cosgrove's 'Raining Sunshine': This option gives access to a sub-menu that lets you choose between watching normal and sing-a-long versions of the Disney star's 'Raining Sunshine' music video (03:45 SD), along with a short behind-the-scenes featurette (02:17 SD). If you're a kid, or you enjoy jailbait teen pop princesses, this is the place to be.
Trailers: The disc also includes trailers for Open Season, Surf's Up, Playmobil: The Secret of Pirate Island, and Open Season 3.
BD-Live: The usual BD-Live features are here, which is to say not much of interest. As far as I could tell there was no content relating specifically to Cloudy on the site. This registers a big fat 'meh'.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a big surprise, and a pleasant one at that. Although it's still some way behind the quality of Pixar's output both technically and artistically, I found it more enjoyable than a lot of animated films I've seen (particularly on the second criteria). It's a perfect family movie with something for everyone, whether your preference is for slapstick gags or more refined humour. Again, while not quite as impressive as the best animated titles out there (and WALL-E is still my benchmark) Sony has delivered yet another technically impressive disc, and it's no wonder they're easily my favourite studio for high-definition releases. I supposed one could complain that the extras aren't all that substantial, but considering that the primary audience is younger children I think they offer reasonable value (the DVD copy certainly helps). All-in-all, this one come highly recommended.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable for all
Release Date: 25th January 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Audio Descriptive Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English HoH, Hindi
Extras: Audio Commentary, Featurettes, Games, Music Video, Trailer, BD-Live
Easter Egg: No
Director: Christopher Miller, Phil Lord
Cast: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Bruce Campbell, James Caan, Mr. T
Genre: Animation, Comedy and Sci-Fi
Length: 90 minutes
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