Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs


Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

I wouldn't be so calm with a monkey on my shoulder.

(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

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Oceans


Oceans

Underwater, turtles become sprinters.

(DisneyNature) Narrated by Pierce Brosnan. Directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud

The oceans are vast, covering nearly three quarters of our planet and yet humans have laid eyes on only 5% of it. It makes up the largest territory of our planet and yet what we know about what lives there is infinitesimal compared with what there is to know.

As our technology has evolved, so has our ability to study the creatures of our seas. Some, like the bottle-nose dolphin and the blue whale, are creatures who swim close to the surface and as a result, we’ve been able to study them at some length. Others exist at greater depths, or swim in places that are more difficult for humans to access. Even these remote places, however, are becoming more and more reachable with submersibles that can withstand greater pressures, high-tech scuba apparatus and underwater cameras that can take amazing footage.

This is the second in what is slated to be an annual Earth Day event by Disney’s nature documentary division (last year, they released Earth to much acclaim). While Disney is distributing these movies, it should be noted that both Earth and Oceans were made by documentarians in England and France, respectively and were financed and produced outside of the Mouse House.

Still, the images here are magnificent, from the stately blue whale migration to the antics of sea otters and dolphins, from the weird and mysterious spider crabs to the serene and beautiful jellyfish. There are orcas and sharks, to be sure, and gulls dive-bombing for sardines, clouds of krill and schools of yellowfin tuna. There are squid-like creatures undulating through the liquid world with scarf-like streamers trailing them like a Spanish dancer, and tiny eels dancing in a strange ballet on the ocean floor. There are beautiful clownfish darting in and out of the Great Barrier Reef and penguins in the Antarctic, clumsy clowns on the ice but graceful and sleek in the water.

In its own way, Oceans is a beautiful movie but I’m wondering if there isn’t a bit of overkill here. After last year’s Earth and the latest BBC/Discovery Channel epic nature documentary series “Life”, Oceans feels almost like too much of a good thing.

The other quibble is with the narration. Pierce Brosnan is a fine actor but he doesn’t make a great narrator; his voice lacks the gravitas of a James Earl Jones or even a Sigourney Weaver. In all fairness, the narration he is given to read isn’t very inspirational and lacked the humor Disney nature documentaries are known for.

Still, that’s not what you come to a movie like this for. You come for amazing images and to see things you’ll never be able to see with your own eyes. The way to approach a movie like Oceans is to let the images sweep over you, wash you away and take you to the deep blue. It is as alien a world as anything George Lucas has ever devised and yet it is on our doorstep.

Asking the question “What is the ocean,” as the narration posits at the movie’s beginning, dumbs down the movie. Unless you’re a very young child, you know what the ocean is and clearly Disney is going for parents with very young children. While young children will ooh and ahh over the pictures, they don’t have the attention span to last the entire 90 minutes of the film. The trick is to get the same sense of wonder from adults, which they do nicely. It then becomes unnecessary to talk down to the audience by asking them “What is the ocean” because the questions you want them to ask are “What more is the ocean” and “How can we help save it.”

There are sequences that are powerful, with a forlorn shopping cart sitting on the ocean floor (which led me more to wonder how on earth it got there) and garbage floating on the ocean’s surface sending the requisite ecological message which should have been stronger; a segment that showed species that are now extinct was excised for the American version. Perhaps Disney didn’t want children to dwell on the harsh realities, but then why show baby turtles being picked off by frigate birds if that’s the case?

The co-directors were responsible for the much-superior Winged Migration and to their credit to capture some amazing sequences, but quite frankly I wasn’t wowed. Oceans turns out to be less of an educational tool than a new age video, and to my way of thinking our oceans deserved a better movie.

REASONS TO GO: Some very spectacular and beautiful footage, as well as amazing behavioral mannerisms of creatures both familiar and unfamiliar.

REASONS TO STAY: Perhaps a victim of Earth’s success; didn’t stack up favorably. Brosnan’s narration didn’t carry enough gravitas.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfect viewing for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Perrin narrates the French version; his son Lancelot makes an appearance as the young boy in the movie’s framing segments at the beginning and the end.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the magnificent footage should be seen on a big screen for full effect.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Express