Film Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Kids will eat up this sequel, which picks up right where the first 'Meatballs' left off. Parents will have a pretty good time too.

When last we saw young genius inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) and friends, they had just saved the world from the raging food-storms accidentally stirred up when Flint’s water-into-food conversion machine developed a supersized agenda of its own. Picking up the action about a minute later, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 finds its plucky heroes facing the task of cleaning up their island home of Swamp Falls—which now resembles the world’s largest garbage dump. Yes, this sequel will be dealing with the aftermath of what Flint’s machine has wrought—and still be dealing with the not-shut-down-after-all machine. But just when you think you’re in for a redundant thrill ride, hold onto your hat: After an antic, character re-establishing first 20 minutes, this movie is off and running, in a new direction. And it never really stops.

Though that infernal machine remains the main obstacle for Flint and company to overcome, it isn’t the real villain here. That title goes to one Chester V (Will Forte), founder, chairman and main guru of Live Corp, the visionary company that has dispensed high-tech clean-up crews all over the leftover-covered globe. He’s part Steve Jobs, but a bigger part Dr. No. So of course he wants to rule the world—and of course he keeps that a secret from Flint, who thinks he’s being recruited as a potential new member of Chester’s elite team of “Thinkonauts.” Think again, young Lockwood. You’re really just Chester’s new pawn.

If all this makes Meatballs 2 sound more action-comedy thrillerish than the manic, message-driven Meatballs 1, that’s because it is. And in terms of sheer entertainment value, that’s not such a bad thing. Indeed, this is a movie that most kids will probably “get” more fully than they got Meatballs 1, with its fast-paced wordplay and its veiled social commentary on conspicuous consumerism, mass production, massive waste and just plain overeating. There’s nothing so heavy in this one, whose main message is a more kid-relatable “family and friends come first” life lesson. The sense of humor here is less sophisticated too. Not that a lot of it isn’t still very clever. But there are times—as with a throwaway “cut-the-cheese” gag—that Meatballs 2 panders where Meatballs 1 never felt the need to.

But once it really gets going, Meatballs 2 is like Jurassic Park, only with “foodimals.” That’s what the movie calls the machine-mutated animal-grocery hybrids that have flourished on human-evacuated Swamp Falls, where Flint has been sent to locate his still operational machine-run-amok. Of course, Flint’s feisty weather girl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), his fisherman dad (James Caan), his mischievous monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), and the rest of the motley crew that saved the day in Meatballs 1 are along for the adventure. This wouldn’t have been a proper sequel (or half as much fun) if they weren’t.

What the gang finds on Swamp Falls is a wildly imaginative array of new species, all part animal, part entrée. Shrimpanzees, tacodiles, banostriches, you name it. They’re here, they’re weird and they’re all punnily named.

After some fairly non-traumatic scares, it turns out that all of these critters—even the fearsome cheesespider, a giant cheeseburger with a lettuce leaf tongue and French fry legs—are essentially benign. But the ever-devious Chester is withholding that information from Flint and friends. He wants them to think that the foodimals are malevolent man-eaters, about to be unleashed on the world. He needs Flint focused on stopping that disaster movie by finding that machine, which Chester intends to repurpose for his own diabolical plan, which involves the exploitation of Swamp Falls’ “living food” population. Or something like that. At this point, finer plot points hardly matter. The writers’ zingy repartee and the animators’ inspired animal-vegetable husbandry are what rule this world.

The idea that all those scary mutant foodimals aren’t really monsters is hardly out of place in a movie made for kids. Even hardened grownups might soften a little at the sight of a mother tacodile protectively herding her litter of mini-tacos. You may not feel moved to go “Awww” as cooing marshmallows and Bambi-eyed strawberries start cuddling up to the humanfolk—but the kids around you probably will. And that’s okay, because none of this comes off as a marketing campaign for tie-in plush toys (which isn’t to say we won’t see them). It might be sugary sweet, but it all feels organic to the story. So does an ending that’s so happy it’s almost idyllic.

And this probably is where it should end. The filmmakers have done an admirable job of branching out from Meatballs 1, and making a new and different, and exceedingly entertaining, follow-up. And it’s going to make a lot of money, probably even more than the first one did.  Which is why they’ll almost certainly go back to the well for a third one. Which will most likely make this achievement seem all the more special. Enjoy it while it’s here.