The original Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs came out in 2009 and was one of the surprize hits of the post summer season. Combining the limitless boundaries of a CGI family flick with the zany anarchy of a surrealist comedy, Cloudy worked so well for both kids and adults that it’s one of the few non Pixar movies that gained its reputation from critics not Happy Meals.
The food machine remains switched on somewhere in the middle of Swallow Falls and its still generating a food based ecology, the kind we saw at the climax of the first film. Meanwhile the residents of the town are relocated to San Franjose so the island can be cleaned up. Chester V the genius inventor in charge gets Flint a job at his company Live Corp. It’s an Apple like company that preaches individuality whilst enforcing uniformity and Chester V is clearly its Steve Jobs.
After Flint disgraces himself at an annual company meeting, Chester V gives him a chance at redemption by travelling to the island and shutting down the computer generating the animals. He’s been told they are a bunch of bloodthirsty carnivores’ hell bent on learning to swim and eating Lady Liberty, but can Chester V be trusted? So despite a promise he made do this on his own Flint enlists the team who helped him in his last adventure.
One of the things that made the original stand out so much was its quirky sense of humour. It felt quick witted, playful, mischievous and ever so slightly naughty. It’s also one of the things that make Cloudy 2 an absolute delight to watch. The island has some absolutely puntastic creatures including Watermelephants, Shrimpanzees and Peanut Butter and JellyFish. It almost feels like a guilty pleasure laughing at some of these preschool puns. But as the animators have clearly had a blast creating some of these foodimals, allowing yourself this kind of lovingly crafted childhood indulgence feels liberating.
There’s also plenty of fun to be at the jokes children will not get, like the apple bashing and the meaning behind the McGuffin’s title of BS-USB. Although these more adult components are so integrated into the plot Cloudy 2 children might have a hard time following what’s going on. Much of what makes the main villain a presence requires a pre-existing knowledge of Steve Jobs and the elitist culture behind the consumption of Apple products. How many preteens are going in to see Cloudy 2 armed with that kind of knowledge? And how many teenagers are actively part of that culture? They’ve made a brave choice with how much of the plot hinges on this theme and are at serious risk of turning key sectors of their fan base against them.
The Apple theme also provides the inspiration for one of the most visually creative sequences in the film. Live Corp HQ is a digital dystopia of intellectual freedom on the surface but hiding a dark underbelly of employee exploitation. It’s part Tron, part Logan’s Run, and it easily matches the most surreal flights of fancy in the first film. It’s so good it almost makes me feel the movie should have spent the majority of its time there instead of with the foody fauna and flora.
The conservationist theme does make for some wonderful spectacle but it doesn’t feel as fresh as the first films central themes of urban decay and industrial town poverty. The story in general feels a lot more by the numbers than the first film did. All the story beats are telegraphed to you well in advance and they line up a little too neatly. For a series renowned for thinking outside the box I wished they used some of that originality on the plot. Also the films establishing shot of the food based wildlife positively smacks of Jurassic Park when it should be concerned with creating an iconic moment of its own.
One other thing that doesn’t quite measure up to the standard set by the first film is the quality of relationships between characters. The first film had all of the major players face some kind of personal flaw. Flint and his dad have trouble communicating, Sam hid her intelligence behind a more populist persona, Brent had to grow up and stop living off past glories ect. Not only are the character arcs in Cloudy 2 not as fleshed out as the last film (Terry Cruz’s character development literally gets introduced and resolved in two lines of dialogue) but they also feel a lot more generic than the first film. They don’t have the social satire or passion behind them we know this creative team is capable of giving.
It’s clear in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 that it was the animation team who threw all of their weight behind this film. Their creative vision still had plenty of steam behind it, while the people in charge of plot and character development have struggled to keep the spark that lit the first film up. Its still a wildly funny universe with warm and likeable characters and the writing still has the wit and anarchic punch that made the first film such an unexpected thrill, but its missing the heart that put it over the edge.