Tuesday 29 October 2013

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 Review - "There's A Leek In The Boat!"

Never have I ever been so hungry watching a film.

Chance Of Meatballs 2 (CWACOM2... just rolls off the tongue) is executive produced by the original film makers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who have since moved on to the 21 Jump Street franchise. In their stead, we have Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, the promising directors behind...Open Season 3. Don't worry though Cloudy fans; director Cody Cameron is the voice behind Pinocchio and the three little pigs in the original Shrek... and they were funny right? With such a strong creative team, surely CWACOM2 will best the inevitable decline in quality that most sequels fall prey to, right?

The sequel begins exactly where the original left off, much like Insidious 2 or Halloween 2, but with less death. Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) has just saved the town of Swallow Falls from an edible apocalypse with the help of his oddball group of friends and spunky meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris). Minutes after we conveniently learn that Lockwood was obsessed with a super inventor called Chester V (Will Forte) as a child, said scientist arrives on the scene, informing the gang that they must all leave the island to assist clean-up. Turns out though that the food machine which wreaked havoc in the first film is still running and is now creating food that has evolved into sentient and potentially dangerous life-forms. Lockwood and his friends are tasked with the unenviable job of entering the edible jungle and stopping the machine in order to save the world, spouting every food pun imaginable on the way.

The absurd design of the CWACOM series is indisputably unique in a world of Pixar and Dreamworks clones, but once the main plot kicks in, that's when the visuals really begin to impress. Central to this is the genius 'foodimal' concept, where the screenwriters and animators alike clearly had a blast coming up with as many ridiculous food/animal hybrids as they could to populate their computer animated jungle. Tacodiles, apple piethons, shrimpanzees... the list goes on and children will have a field day trying to come up with their own creations. The whole thing looks very impressive indeed, but I did feel at points that some of the foodimal names were crow barred in purely for the sake of potential merchandising. Who wouldn't want to play with their very own watermelophant? 

Fans of the original may find CWACOM2  less innovative in its humour, but you have to commend the film for piling on those jokes. Like the first Airplane film or an overstuffed pie, every scene is crammed full to the brim and even small touches you may not notice the first time round keep the laughter flowing. Inevitably, this means that there are some misses but the hit-rate is surprisingly high for a children's sequel which I think successfully appeals to both immature adults (that's me!) and sophisticated children in equal measure. There's a scene which echoes the classic vibrating glass of water moment in Jurassic Park which made me laugh... a lot and for the kids, there's more food puns than a fat mans joke book. "There's a leek in the boat...Aargh!" Genius. The ensuing chaos may jar some adult viewers but for me, this is what animation is all about; embracing the absurd.

Key to the film's success is the return of the brilliant voice cast from the original, now joined this time by the hilarious Kristen Schaal, who plays an evil orangutan sidekick called Barb who is fed up of always being called a monkey. Some of the supporting characters like Andy Samberg's Brent and James Caan's Tim Lockwood are sidelined somewhat, presumably under the assumption that fans already know them from the original, which is a shame as I felt more could have been done with these uniquely odd characters. This oversight may be due to the quest driven nature of the plot; attempts to develop characterisation around the middle act cause a lull which is only kept afloat by the sheer volume of food puns. Script revisions may have been useful here.

Something else which stuck out as odd in the film's script is the high regard the characters give to the foodimals, which some argue shouldn't be eaten on the grounds that they are living creatures. Fair enough, but then the following scene cuts immediately to Tim Lockwood fishing for sardines, which apparently are ok to eat, while the foodimals are not. I admire the screenwriters attempts to undercut the humour with important messages about preserving our environment, but their execution of this idea is more likely to confuse rather than inspire.

Cloudy-with-a-Chance-of-Meatballs-2-BarryI was also somewhat underwhelmed by the villain, Chester V, who should have in reality been one of the film's standout characters, but ends up being quite one dimensional in his motivations. Of course, this is just a kids film, but in a series renowned for its quirky personalities, I couldn't help but feel disappointed every time Chester V appeared on screen. Saying that though, his bizarre arm movements are freaky as hell and his character design will probably stick in your mind purely for that reason.

Despite some niggling issues with the script, CWACOM2 is hands down one of the best kids sequels I've ever seen. New directors Cameron and Pearn stepped their game up with a movie that retains the original's absurdist humour while still keeping things fresh with new ideas that give the film it's own unique feel. Unfortunately, I worry that the CWACOM series will be somewhat overshadowed by the more vacuous offerings from Dreamworks and the big guns from Pixar, but for those who discover CWACOM2, a ridiculously silly yet enjoyable treat awaits. And for adults who look their nose down on animation because it's sometimes loud or has too many bright colours, I say to you please give CWACOM2 a try, if only to see the funniest strawberry ever committed to film. He's called Barry. Food for thought eh?

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