Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wordy Wednesday: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

The forecast for the animated feature Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs could very well be sunny with a chance of a big hit.

Based on the children's book of the same name about a town where food falls like rain, writer-directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord took the basic premise and brilliantly crafted an origin-type story. The result is an intricate, colorful and delicious world that is strong on character, big on laughs and clever on plot.

In Cloudy, aspiring inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) creates a machine that makes it rain whatever foods he programs in to his computer. National Weather Network's Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) arrives to cover the phenomenon and the two become friends. Over time, the townsfolk begin to abuse the machine with requests that get grander by the day and the machine starts to behave erratically.

Hitting a boiling point, the machine unleashes a torrent of spaghetti tornadoes, giant meatballs and other foods in grotesque sizes that threaten to destroy the town. As everyone prepares to evacuate, Flint and Sam must try to stop the looming disaster. It's a fast-paced adventure with nary a dull moment, making the hour and half go by quickly.

In addition to the clever story-line, the characters in Cloudy prove to be a great strength here as well. All of them -- no matter how small or large the part -- are interesting, engaging and unique in their personalities. Flynt's technophobic and reserved father (James Caan), the gluttonous Mayor Shelbourne (Bruce Campbell), the town's local celebrity "Baby" Brent (Andy Samberg) and the over protective sheriff (Mr. T) are just a few of the folks who have their own personal story arcs in the film. Each one is neatly tied together by the end.

The world crafted by the filmmakers is both mesmerizing and scrumptious. Swimming pools of melted cheese, a giant Jell-O bouncy-house and peanut brittle as weapon-like stakes are nothing short of impressive. It brings to mind the type of richness and inventiveness Tim Burton brought to his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, except this world is animated.
It's clear that much love and effort went in to bringing this book to life. Lord and Miller, along with digital effects supervisor Daniel Kramer, spent a lot of time replicating falling foods by studying their effects in real life before animating them. Their team filled a bathtub with Jello-O, for example, and dropped action figures into it to see how it would bounce and reflect light. Burgers were dropped from great heights and the different ways it would come apart upon landing was duly noted and incorporated.

This attention to detail results in the audiences' total acceptance of a world where anything goes, no matter how wacky things gets. (A monkey who speaks through a thought translator? Check. A flock of rat-birds? Check.)

First time feature directors Lord and Miller hail from the world of television, having served as co-executive producers on How I Met Your Mother among other credits. The duo makes a loud and splashy arrival with Cloudy, signaling a personal forecast that should be nothing but clear skies and sunshine.

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Go see the movie if you haven't already!

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