Raining snacks and hotdogs

A trip to the cinema is about both visual and edible consumption – would you enjoy yourself as much without the popcorn and soda?

Inspired by a popular American children’s book of the same name, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs combines treats for both eyes and mouths with a whimsical tale about a place where the weather comes in the form of whatever food its inhabitants fancy, be it pancakes or prime steak.

Initially, Swallow Falls, a small island town in the middle of the Atlantic, has little going for it besides sardines, the backbone (or should that be fishbone?) of its economy. Unfortunately, the rest of the world eventually realizes that “sardines are gross” and the town is left with nothing to eat but their surplus stocks of the unappetizing fish.

Outcast inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) hopes to change all that with a machine that can turn water into food. When his plans end up accidentally materializing on a fantastic scale, the resulting scrumptious weather draws attention from budding weathergirl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) and greedy Mayor Shelbourne (Bruce Campbell), jealousy from the town’s former favorite son/sardine celebrity mascot Baby Brent (Andy Samberg) and apprehension from his technophobic father Tim (James Caan), who is concerned that messing with nature could have disastrous consequences…

Cloudy’s voice casting list reads like a who’s who of Judd Apatow (The 40-year-old Virgin) and Saturday Night Live favorites, most of whom smoothly blend into their characters.

Bill Hader, usually the riotous comic support (Superbad, Knocked Up), finally takes the lead as Flint Lockwood, endowing the offbeat inventor with a mixture of geekiness, creepiness and sincerity – the kind of character that you’re both disturbed by and can root for.

Anna Faris (The House Bunny) is in her element as his love interest Sam, who attempts to conceal her secret nerd under a perky exterior.

James Caan (The Godfather, Elf) as Tim, Flint’s laconic father, adds gravitas to the man of few words. Andy Samberg, aka the partner-in-crime to Justin Timberlake in various risqu* music videos about presents and hot moms, is amusingly inappropriate as Baby Brent, an overgrown child star, diapers and all.

The voices of Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality), Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls), Mr T. (The A-Team), Bobb’e J Thompson (Role Models), Will Forte (SNL), Al Roker (NBC’s Today show) further boost the comic credentials.

These vocal talents all complement and enhance Cloudy’s idiosyncratic humor. There’s slapstick in the form of the accident-prone Flint and Sam, and the wonderful weirdness of Steve, who is pathologically fixated on moustaches and Gummi Bears.

In the film’s odd world, all French tourists wear berets, while the English are clad in bowlers. There are also generation gap gems, such as when Flint’s computer illiterate father has to email an attachment to his phone in a life or death situation – out of context, “mouse”, “desktop” and “drag” become hilariously incomprehensible.

Occasionally, the humor veers into disturbing territory, i.e. in the case of mutant man-eating roast chickens. It’s enough to transform the most ardent carnivore into a tofu devotee.

Of course the comedy would largely fall flat without satisfying eye candy, which the movie certainly delivers, in Real 3D to boot. Although not quite on par with Pixar at its best, the film’s rainbow of colors and wealth of textures form a sumptuous buffet, with careful details like rippling water, wobbling Jello and ruffled hair.

The bountiful concept of food weather is well-mined with ice cream snow and spaghetti hurricanes, and there are simplistic but amusing visual gags like a giant sandwich impaling itself on the Eiffel Tower and a huge fortune cookie forewarning about the disaster about to befall the Great Wall of China.

Although it offers much entertainment, Cloudy is somewhat let down by its uneven pacing and flimsy themes. It begins as fanciful kid’s flick and about halfway through, abruptly becomes an adventure/disaster movie parody, reminiscent of Twister, Journey to the Center of Earth and The Day After Tomorrow.

While this is certainly enlivening, the change should have been more gradual. The film’s themes – father-and-son relationships, social/environmental responsibility and the desire for popularity – are shallow.

Heavy moralizing has been the undoing of other kid’s films (Happy Feet, Ferngully), but in this case, more heart and depth would have improved the movie’s cohesion.

Overall, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has plenty of high quality ingredients – an imaginative concept, comic vocals, quirky characters, and luscious visuals – which unfortunately could have been mixed together more expertly. So instead of a gourmet meal, it’s more of an experimental appetizer – well worth a taste anyway.

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