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Food, glorious food

24/01/2011

I’m caught in an animated loop right now. It seems no matter how hard I try I can’t veer away from animated films and so my stack of unwatched DVDs is not diminishing in the slightest. Not to worry, my current fixation has meant I have managed to catch up with some computer generated gems I hadn’t quite got around to yet and Saturday night was no exception with my opportunity to see the exceedingly enjoyable (if utterly bizarre) Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs in all the hi-def glory of Blu-Ray.

I have to confess to having extremely low expectations of the film. I hadn’t seen it before now mostly due to a lack of desire to go out of my way to see it. Non-Pixar CG animation is always a roll of the dice, often ending in disappointment because the people responsible (usually Dreamworks) don’t understand the format sufficiently well to do a good enough job of it. Things like Shrek are watchable, granted, but serve only to highlight how truly great Pixar are as producers of the finest family entertainment. While I couldn’t go so far as to claim Meatballs is “better than Pixar” (it isn’t), I would say that it is on a par, for pure entertainment value, with anything that Pixar have produced. Granted, it lacks the gravitas of Up or Wall-E, but it works on a different level to these films and is riotously good fun. It’s a slightly unpredictable, manic film that’s full of surprises some of which I may end up spoiling here, you have been warned.

It’s the story of Flint Lockwood, a guy who has grown up on the island of Swallow Falls. Growing up convinced he is a genius inventor, Flint’s attempts at progressing mankind don’t generally end well with his inventions (Spray On Shoes, Monkey Thought Translators, Ratbirds) never really turning out the way he hopes. When the sardine fishing based economy of Swallow Falls collapses everyone on the island is left to survive on a sardine diet so Lockwood embarks on his most ambitious project yet – a machine that turns water into any food you want. A slight hiccup in the process results in his machine becoming airborne and converting clouds into food and the resulting edible precipitation quickly becomes the talk of the world. Seeing this as an opportunity to reinvigorate the local economy the slightly dodgy mayor of Swallow Falls pushes Flint into overusing the machine with disastrous results. Realising his overreaching ambition is now threatening the world, Flint has to find a way to stop his machine before it’s too late. 

It’s frantic, manic stuff. Flint is a hapless buffoon but with a big heart. Incredibly likeable and sympathetic you feel pretty bad for him when his life isn’t going the way he hopes and it’s very easy to root for him over the course of the film. His motives are always good, even when he does slightly questionable things (like knowingly pushing his machine past its safe limit) and he is easy to forgive for his weaknesses. He’s also hilarious, providing his own running commentary to almost everything he does. The whole film is hilarious actually, I haven’t laughed so hard at a film in a long time. Bruce Campbell does a tremendous job as the conniving mayor, James Caan plays Flint’s dad (with the most amazing monobrow you’ve ever seen) and there is a showstopping performance by Mr T as the local law enforcement officer. All are in fine comic form and bring a lot more to the party than some recognisable voices. As far as laughs go, the pace never lets up for the whole film which probably helps to deflect some of the absurdity of the plot from closer scrutiny. It left me in a tremendously good mood.

While the story is sort of mental throughout, it takes a properly bizarre turn for the final act when Flint and his friends (including his monkey assistant Steve) have to fly to the machine, which has become a pulsating, sentient sphere of food in the sky, and download a kill code to its mainframe to stop it churning out mutated, oversized food which is threatening to overwhelm the Earth. It plays out as a combination of the attack on the Death Star from Star Wars and the Fantastic Voyage, with mutant pizza defending the machine like some kind of twisted immune system. Navigating the labyrinthine tunnels of the machine-creature is a nightmarish experience with living roast chickens and razor sharp peanut brittle stalagtites threatening to overwhelm the heroes. The chicken scene in particular plays out like something out of a David Lynch film. The end result is a climax that is both genuinely exciting and very satisfying.

The technical aspects of the film are outstanding. Beautiful colours and amazing textures abound. The people are quite stylised but the environment is superbly realised in minute, authentic detail. Almost all of it looks like it might be real, at least model work rather than purely computer generated. The smoke/vapour effects are awe inspiring, the machine’s rainbow coloured exhaust, for example, is breathtaking. In common with the pixel kings at Pixar, the attention to detail of the film is extraordinary with plenty of running gags and visual jokes throughout. It really is lush.

Don’t be put off (as I was) by its lack of pedigree. While the feel of the film is very different from a Pixar film this isn’t a negative thing. There’s enough wit and verve to the comedy to keep grown ups happy and sufficient slapstick and general tom foolery to keep the kids engaged and it really, really is beautiful. I thoroughly recommend it!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Feexby permalink
    24/01/2011 15:54

    Well said, sir. It’s a fine anarchic piece of work indeed. It made me happy the way the old Warner Brothers cartoons did, with scant regard for physics but a willingness to go to any lengths for a laugh.

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