Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Based on the bestselling children's book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is one of those movies that leaves you wanting to break out the thesaurus, because the phrase "sheer, unadulterated pleasure" has been sullied by the likes of Joel Siegel's overuse. Yet that's what it is, simply and most directly — an engaging, funny and warmly designed animated flick that doesn't pander to kids or pull a muscle trying to unnecessarily reach up and out to older audiences.

Co-directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the film tells the story of an affable outcast inventor who creates a machine that rains down food on his hungry island town. Ever since he was a kid, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) has felt out of step and out of sorts with the world around him, and the inability of his emotionally withholding father (voiced by James Caan), a taciturn bait-and-tackle shop owner, to connect has only served to heighten his isolation. Every invention that seems like a breakthrough eventually — and sooner rather than later — comes crashing down around Flint, so when his latest contraption accidentally destroys the town square and rockets up into the clouds, he thinks his inventing career is over.

Then something amazing happens: delicious cheeseburgers start raining from the sky — a godsend to the populace of Swallow Falls, who have subsisted for years on nothing but sardines, and various (unsavory) iterations thereof. With visiting cable weather intern Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) on hand to report Flint's triumph, the town's ambitious, appetite-driven mayor (voiced by Bruce Campbell) both sees and seizes on a once-in-a-lifetime tourism opportunity, re-branding his island "Chews and Swallows," a sort of foodie paradise getaway. When greed gets the best of people, though, the machine starts to run amok, unleashing spaghetti tornadoes and giant meatballs that threaten the world. Flint and Sam must swing into action, to try to find some way to shut down the machine before the world is overrun by giant food raining from the sky.

Hader gives a solid vocal turn as Flint, laced with his characteristic dryness, but also infused with heart. Faris, a delightful comedienne most recently seen to winning effect in The House Bunny, is also pitch-perfect; there's fun had as well with the character of "Baby Brent" (voiced by Andy Samberg), a now-grown air-quote celebrity from Swallow Falls' sardine days who's wrecked by his sudden obsolescence. The writing here is all smart but not showy (there's a joke that employs "amuse-bouche," while also acknowledging its throwaway status), and a good bit of delight can be found in keeping an ear pricked for sotto voce or off-camera asides. In the broadest strokes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs holds allegorical value as a cautionary tale against unchecked rapaciousness. Mostly, though, this is just a well-made movie, with plenty of heart, energy and fun characters.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs comes to DVD in a two-disc version housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with a snap-in tray, and an accompanying cardboard slipcover. In addition to a feature-length audio commentary track with the co-directors and Hader, there's also a pair of making-of featurettes detailing the animation, voiceover work and other behind-the-scenes aspects of production, plus a clutch of interesting progression reels/deleted scenes with introductions by visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow. Also included are a music video and interactive sing-a-long for Miranda Cosgrove's "Raining Sunshine," and an amusing "Food Fight" game where players can help Flint battle against rogue edibles by navigating his spaceship and avoiding hits from flying pizzas, gummy bears, ice cream scoops and the like. All in all, a winning film with a great collection of supplemental material. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. A- (Movie) B+ (Disc)


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