Who would have guessed that the brightest and funniest and most heartwarming animated film of the year would not be from Pixar or Disney but Sony? And that to boot it would be a sequel, or, perhaps given the subject matter, a second helping? “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” is a fresh and charming delight especially welcome after a series of animated disappointments.
There’s a quick recap of the first episode, very loosely based on the 1970’s children’s book classic. We are reminded that would-be inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), who lives in Chewandswallow, created a machine called the “Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator” (FLDSMDFR for short) that turned water into food. But things got out of hand and the town was deluged with food until he saved the day by turning it off. Flint’s scientific idol, Chester V (Will Forte), has invited Flint and his friends to California while they clean up Chewandswallow. Like Flint, Chester has a simian sidekick. Flint has the monosyllabic monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris). Chester has put a human brain inside the brain of an orangutan named Barbara (“Like a terducken!” she says brightly), voiced by Kristen Schaal. Barb has an exquisite manicure and hairdo and a firm insistence on not being called a monkey. She is an ape.
At first, Flint is hesitant to put on hold his plans to create a lab on the island for his friends, especially meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris). But Sam knows what it means to Flint to get a chance to work with Chester, so she encourages him to put the plans for the lab on hold. Sam, Flint’s fisherman dad Tim (James Caan), the Chewandswallow police chief (Terry Crews), and their goofy friend Brent (Andy Samberg), all move to California and Flint goes to work in a facility that looks like a tweaked version of the Googleplex with coffee always within reach and caffeine patches on request.
But then it turns out that the FLDSMDFR is somehow working more damage than ever, now producing weird combinations of food and animals — foodimals — with hilariously preposterous visual and verbal puns. There’s the shrimpanzee, the hippotatosaurus, the susheep, and the taco-dile, along with other delicious mash-ups. Chester sends Flint to shut it down, swearing him to secrecy, but Flint tells Sam and ends up taking the whole gang back to Chewandswallow with him. A few mild quibbles — it would be nie in a movie about scientists to have some actual science used in the problem-solving. And after a movie in which adorable marshmallows and strawberries and even cheeseburgers are cavort so endearingly, parents may find it even more difficult to persuade picky eaters and tenderhearted types to eat their dinners.
But there’s a very sweet storyline about the importance of friends — having friends and being a good friend, and a nice aspirational moral about making the world better — and the pure silly fun of a group of animators outdoing each other with escalating puns that range from the outlandish to the almost-but-not-quite unforgivable. Not once, but twice, there are jokes about a leek in the boat, and it is funny both times. Lines of dialogue lie “piece of cake,” “we’re toast,” and “this is bananas” are punctuated with visual counterpoint. And a bright “New” song by Paul McCartney gives the soundtrack as much sunshiney as the adorable creatures and cheery humor.
Parents should know that this movie has some mild potty humor and comic/cartoon-style peril, most shown to be not scary.
Family discussion: Why was it important for Flint to apologize? How was he affected by being bullied? What does Barb learn about Chester? Which one of Flint’s inventions would you like to try? Do you have an idea that could change the world?
If you like this, try: the first film, the book, and “Megamind”