Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Will Forte, Kristen Schaal
Written by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein, Erica Rivinoja, based on a story by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Erica Rivinoja
Directed by: Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn
MPAA Rating: PG for mild rude humor
Running Time: 95
Date: 09/27/2013

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

In a Pickle

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Handed over to a new team of filmmakers, the sequel to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) fares a bit better than its predecessor. Based loosely on the 1978 children's book by Judi and Ron Barrett, the earlier film felt too forced, with character development uncomfortably shoved into plot developments like a peanut butter and pickle sandwich. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 -- which was at some point subtitled "Revenge of the Leftovers" -- uses memories of the already-established characters and spends more time on its simple theme: man and nature living in harmony.

At the end of the previous adventure, inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) has saved the day, but left his small fishing community in ruins after the destruction of his food-making machine. His hero, a corporate inventor named Chester V (voiced by Will Forte), offers to clean up, but really wants to get his hands on the food machine (which goes by the acronym "FLDSMDFR"). Meanwhile, all the residents of Swallow Falls must evacuate, to "San Franjose," and Chester gives Flint a job at his company, Live Corp.

Months later, Flint, his cute weathergirl girlfriend Sam (voiced by Anna Faris), his dad (voiced by James Caan), former celebrity baby mascot Brent (voiced by Andy Samberg), Manny (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), Officer Earl Devereaux (voiced by Terry Crews, taking over for Mr. T), and Steve the Monkey (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) venture back to Swallow Falls to find that it has been taken over by mutated food animals ("foodimals").

Our replacement directors, Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, focus on the wonders of this world, constantly unveiling beautiful surprises, odd and clever combinations of food and animals (and their pun-rific names), and ridiculous jokes that often work, such as "there's a leek in the boat" (my 7 year-old son's favorite). The animation, presented in 3D is rich and deep and colorful, and often impressive. Certain shots are bound to elicit a "wow," even from jaded older moviegoers.

However, the filmmakers emphasize the cartoonishness of their characters, especially Chester V, who moves like a video game snake, his limbs curling and twisting and then snapping into place. Certainly there's nothing wrong with adopting a cartoon style -- rather than a creepily realistic one -- but here it often feels like noodling about, as if it were just a shortcut and not a coherent stylistic choice.

But the movie works thanks to its brisk pace (it seems as if animated films these days are far better paced than their increasingly bloated, lumbering live-action counterparts), cheerful humor, and awesome visual ideas. Things end on a fine note with a new Paul McCartney tune called "New." My seven year-old son also approves of this movie.

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