Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

As frequently noted, a la Casa Maelstrom, we don't ask much from our children's movies. Just don't phone it in, we beg. You're spending tens of millions of dollars, don't skimp on the script. Don't just slap some B-list celebrity in there, if you gotta have celeb voices.

And, if you're a sequel, for God's sake, don't just rehash the first movie. Yes, the original movie was a hit, that's why there's a sequel in the first place. But if you just repeat the gags from the first one, you not only get diminishing returns, you diminish the original, too.

Which means there was no small trepidation approaching Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2. We actually didn't see the original in the theater, but we grew to love it from repeated home viewings. It may not be a great film, with many hoary kidflick tropes in place, but it is a very good and very watchable film, with lots of creative and entertaining bits.

Everyone is back for the new film (except Bruce Campbell's increasingly obese mayor), which starts with Swallow Falls being cleaned up by a crew of Thinquanauts, led by billionaire genius Chester V (Will Forte). In a bit of retconning, Chester V is shown in flashback to be Flint Lockwood's (Bill Hader) childhood hero, a sort of combination of Steve Jobs and Billy Mays, and he "temporarily" relocates the entire island's population to San FranJose.

He's up to no good from the start, sparing us the notion of a twist, and the inevitable character arc of his good-hearted super-intelligent orangutan companion (Kristen Schaal, who's getting a lot of voice work these days on "Bob's Burgers", "Adventure Time" and Toy Story 3) could only be a surprise to a toddler.

Like the first one, it's not great, in much the same ways—especially the character arcs. But, like the first one, it works, and works pretty darn well, and also for much the same reasons: They didn't phone it in.

In other words, if the basic framework of the story is as by-the-numbers as can be, the details are lovingly attended to. There's never a scene transition or a character movement that doesn't look like it was devotedly attended to, from the cartoonish dynamism of Earl Devereaux, now subtly altered to reflect Terry Crewes as the voice (formerly Mr. T, who apparently declined to do the sequel), to the impossibly fluid movements of Chester V's finger rolling.

The plot? Basically Star Trek III. Well, sort of a combination of II and III, with the food making machine serving as the Genesis device, both as a MacGuffin and as an excuse to make a whole lot of food-based animal puns, like "shrimp-panzees" and "taco-diles".

It kind of goes off the rails in the end, becoming some kind of food-creature-based Braveheart, and there isn't a lick of moral logic to be had with the villainous Chester fiendishly wanting to make the little food animals into...well, food...even as the heroes and the food animals...eat each other, or at least sardines.

That's okay. It doesn't have to make sense. It's "another film by a lot of people", as it says, and sometimes that shows in odd ways. They did rehash one thing, sadly: Andy Samberg's Baby Brent re-appears and where his "Uh! Oh." in the original was supposed to be ironic and lame, it's done straight here.

But that's a nit. Go in with modest expectations and enjoy the delicious scenery. You'll have yourself a good time.

Oh, yeah: Some people are suggesting that this movie is better than Monsters U and should win an Academy Award. These people are wrong.

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