Film Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Feast your eyes: This delectable animated feature, based on the famed children's book, crackles with cleverness, dry wit, kinetic slapstick and absurd humor for all ages—and offers possibly the most dimensional 3D yet.

The best Warner Bros. cartoon Columbia Pictures has ever made, the CGI feature Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs pitches forth with the breakneck humor and sparkling wordplay of classic Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck routines, while remaining a wholly original and visually sumptuous creation. Hamburgers falling from the sky? Well, you've seen meteor showers, one character says, but you've never seen meatier showers. It takes both cleverness and guts to use the term "amuse bouche" as a punch line and have faith that even young audiences will get the joke from the context, or at least find the phrase funny. But it takes equal faith to do a monkey poo bit that's all hilarious implication and doesn't, shall we say, rub your face in it. Combined with some of the sharpest yet most organic-looking 3D yet, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is brilliant with a chance of classic.

This wouldn't be true if the film, inspired by the perennially popular children's book, were simply the sum of its jokes. Co-writers/co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller—whose unpromising credits include Extreme Movie and the short-lived MTV animated series “Clone High USA”—fortunately also mine a wealth of character humor, taking near-universal childhood/teen fears about being different, being liked and being accepted by your parents, and let the characters' desires and actions spring naturally. Within an exaggerated, super-science framework recalling that of the 1990s series “Dexter's Laboratory,” the trials of awkward, twenty-something inventor Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader) flow from a very real, believable humanity.

Flint, despite his macho moniker, is a well-meaning misfit in the island town of Swallow Falls, where sardine fishing is king. His widowed, long-suffering father, Tim (James Caan), is a burly bait-shop owner who sighs a lot and tries to relate to Flint with fishing metaphors that, well, get all tangled in their own lines. Flint's creations, which include flying rat-birds, don't endear him to the townsfolk. But when his latest invention, a floating device in the sky that turns water vapor into foodstuffs, rains down burgers and other goodies, Flint becomes a celebrity, and the town a tourist attraction. He develops his own tourist attraction to a visiting weathergirl, Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), a cutie who feels forced to hide her own science nerd-dom with "math-is-hard" tee-hees.

From this whimsical premise—all original, owing nothing to the book other than the increasingly large food from the sky and escape boats made of giant toast—the animators spin cotton candy and gold. After they set up a small utopia, including a magical scene of a pastel ice-cream wonderland, the wages of hubris kick in, and now we're rolling with knowing nods to the likes of Armageddon, Twister, Aliens and even the all-but-forgotten Evolution. One scene of Flint running toward a tornado, leaping and tossed headlong from one windborne object to another, is a breathtaking homage to a similar scene in the cult classic The Thief and the Cobbler, which truly validates the filmmakers' animation-buff cred. Nutritious and delicious, peppered with subtle commentary on gluttony and overconsumption, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will make adults want to sit at the kids' table.