(Columbia) Starring the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Mr. T, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris. Directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord
We all want to leave our mark upon the world, but for a lot of us, that boils down to one thing – impressing our parents. After all, if they can’t see us as successful, nobody else will.
Flint Lockwood (Hader) wants nothing more than to be an inventor. He has some innovative ideas, but quite frankly they don’t turn out quite the way he intended them to. The ratbirds he breeds escape into the wild, flocking around garbage cans and dumps. His remote control television develops a mind of its own and runs away. He creates a device that allows him to communicate with Steve (Harris), his monkey but Steve’s one word responses aren’t exactly what he had in mind and Steve is much more interested in ripping the moustache of his taciturn father (Caan).
His mother believes in him and encourages him, but after she passes away, he is left to be raised by his dad, a sardine fisherman who doesn’t really understand his son. The gulf between them is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.
In fact, that’s essentially where they live, on an island well off the coast of America in the Atlantic. Swallow Falls is a company town and that company cans sardines. When the sardine market tanks, the town is left with a closed cannery, Baby Brent (Samberg) – the company mascot now grown to oversized adulthood and tons of unsold sardines which becomes the main food source for the islanders. Needless to say, they soon tire of sardines. Flint figures that he can change his status as town laughingstock by creating a device that will change water into food and sets out to build it in his backyard treehouse lab tower.
The town’s ambitious but corpulent mayor (Campbell) determines to reverse the town’s fortunes by creating Sardine Land, a destination theme park. However, Flint’s test of his rocket-powered food conversion device destroys the theme park, much to the disgust of Earl (Mr. T), the town’s lone police officer, but more importantly to the disappointment of his father. The device disappears into the stratosphere, leaving Flint once again to be the object of scorn.
Flint finds a kindred spirit in Sam Sparks (Faris), a wannabe weathercaster who thus far has been unable to rise above her intern status. Her first real assignment – covering the opening of Sardine Land – has turned into a debacle. The two are commiserating on the pier when a strange looking cloud approaches and starts to rain….cheeseburgers.
Yes, his device actually works and it creates a sensation. Thanks to Sam’s broadcast of the story, Swallow Falls becomes the center of the world’s attention. Flint goes from goat to hero in a single storm. He is able to program the menu from his lab and soon the requests come pouring in; jellybeans and ice cream for the kids, pizza and steak for the adults. Open-roofed restaurants become all the rage. The mayor happily gorges on the food that rains from the sky; there is such a surplus that a dam has to be built to hold the leftovers.
However, it turns out that there is a glitch in the software and the more that the device is asked to create, the more unstable it becomes. The food begins to get bigger and bigger until meatballs the size of Volkswagens begins to crash down from the clouds. Thanks to the incompetent mayor, the interface in Flint’s lab is destroyed. If the device isn’t shut down soon, the town will be wiped out and it is up to Flint to do it.
This is based on a children’s book popular 20 years ago, albeit very loosely. The original’s narrative was very barebones and the ink drawings not really in line with today’s animation style. The directors, who have a background in television with credits like “How I Met Your Mother” and “Clone High USA” on their resume, have crafted a movie that has received nothing but critical plaudits.
I have to admit I’m not as on board with the movie as other critics and even Da Queen are. I can admire the script which is cleverly written, full of the pop culture references that seem to be de rigueur for modern animated features, albeit in a much more subtle manner than most of them. There is a willful zaniness that owes a good deal to the Cartoon Network as much as anything else.
And maybe I’m a bit of a curmudgeon in that regard. I’m not a big fan of the Cartoon Network; I find most of the animation to be shoddy, the humor dumb and a little bit condescending to its audience. With few exceptions, most modern animated programs directed at kids seem to talk down to them.
That said, the casting is inspired. What could be more hip than having Bruce Campbell in your voice cast, and Mr. T as the acrobatic Earl is simply perfect. Everyone else does a solid job for the most part.
There are some good laughs and I suspect that most of you will probably like this a lot more than I did. I just couldn’t connect with it the way I have with things like Up, Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E and How to Train Your Dragon. That’s not a problem with the film; it’s a problem with me although I feel obliged to mention it, I can still recommend the movie to most audiences. I’m just not rating it higher because it’s the movie’s job to make that connection and it didn’t, and if it didn’t with me I’m sure that I’m not alone in that regard.
WHY RENT THIS: A well-written, clever script utilizes the pop culture references more subtly than, say, the Shrek series.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Simplistic animation not up to the sophistication of Pixar’s best work.
FAMILY VALUES: No worries – this is suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Earl has the exact opposite hairstyle than his voice actor Mr. T – instead of a T-shaped Mohawk he has a T-shaped bald spot.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A music video by Miranda Cosgrove (with accompanying making-of featurettes) and a food fight game are built into the Special Edition DVD; the Blu-Ray also gives you an option to launch food at the screen while the movie is playing.
FINAL RATING: 5/10
TOMORROW: Kinky Boots