After the Storm, by Scott Nye
Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a breath of fresh air, not only for the feature-length animated film, which had regressed into the stately Pixar or the reference-heavy DreamWorks (with a stop-motion oddity thrown in here or there for good measure), but perhaps more refreshingly, for the film comedy, which had fallen into a series of routine hangout pictures or simply outrageous exercises in gross absurdity. Cloudy bested them all, proving that simply being funny was the order of the day, and that jokes could come from almost anywhere – and with willing animators, this could quite literally be true – without sacrificing some real heart. That its eventual sequel, not directed by Lord and Miller, would come up short of these immense heights was perhaps inevitable, but Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn (working from a script by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, and Erica Rivinoja) have expanded on it nicely, crafting a film that feels like the natural successor to the original without simply rehashing its story.
The film picks up immediately where the last one left off, with Swallow Falls having been saved from destruction via foodstorm by its accidental creator, Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader) and his merry band of small-town misfits, meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), Flint’s father Tim (James Caan), town mascot “Baby” Brent (Andy Samberg), Sam’s cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), and town policeman Officer Earl (Terry Crews, replacing the departed Mr. T). Realizing all that they have accomplished together, Flint decides then and there that they should all work together in a new laboratory, but no sooner have they hatched their plan than in zooms Chester V (Will Forte), a Steve Jobs-esque inventor and innovator, who offers Flint a position at his company while his own team begins cleaning up the island to their own (possibly nefarious) ends.
These first 20-30 minutes, of Flint finding his place around the San Franjose-based corporation, are when the film is at its best and wildest, tossing in a thousand visual gags per square inch and rolling out the laugh-out-loud dialogue faster than you can register your own laugh. By the time it gets to the parody, Bob-Dylan-esque melancholy tune played over Flint walking home in humiliation, the film seems absolutely unstoppable.
But soon enough, things are going wrong with Chester’s island team, and he decides to send in a more experienced agent – Flint himself, aided by the aforementioned merry band. And just as the film’s design and ambition gets wilder, with the introduction of dozens of “foodimals” (as viewers of the first may recall, the food had begun to transform into living creatures), that the actual fun of it begins to decelerate. Don’t get me wrong, tacodiles, mosquitoasts, flamangos, watermelophants, meatbalruses, and buffaloaves can take a film far in this world, but on puns alone do not a film rest. Its excitement in building this world seemingly by the seat of their pants is infectious, but only for so long, at which the actual story takes over and becomes considerably more staid. They attempt to inject an emotional backbone, which came so naturally in the first, but which is introduced a little too late and to too little effect to have a strong impact, that ultimately just takes away from the otherwise enjoyable adventure story in which we’ve suddenly found ourselves. Where the original found Flint realizing just how big a family he actually had, Cloudy 2 is pretty content with what it has.
The cast is still just as eager as before, proving that just because you’re obligated to hire a cast of celebrities as voice actors, doesn’t mean they need to be boring (though Kristen Schaal’s contribution, as Chester’s talking orangutan assistant, may insist otherwise). Will Forte is a natural fit for the gang, bringing a certain enlightenment to the eccentricity of the cast, and providing a natural outsider villain type. While the first benefitted from not really having a strict bad-guy, preferring instead to view the island’s inhabitants as a group of people with various needs and wants that oscillated between the selfish and the gregarious (boy what a great movie that is), this is a little more comfortable in vilifying certain types of people.
I’m sure I’d have taken more of a shine to the picture without the first to compare it to, but guess what, Sony? You go and make a sequel to a masterpiece, that sort of thing’s going to happen. Ah, never mind, they’re not listening.