Considering the original arrived with zero expectations (it wasn’t from Disney, or Pixar, or Blue Sky, or Dreamworks Animation) and was met with a largely favorable response, it makes sense that 2009’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is now getting the sequel treatment. The adventures of absent-minded inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) may not be 100% faithful to the Judy and Ron Barrett book upon which they are based, but with an unusually high level of invention and a decidedly low amount of pop culture pandering, they provide a solid source of family entertainment. The latest installment in what will surely be a series borrows heavily from Jurassic Park and offers some pleasantly pun-heavy production design, but the novelty has worn a bit. Instead of being knockout, Part Two is just nice.
After the events of the first film, Flint Lockwood has found a new fascination: working for a Steve Jobs-like tech guru named Chester V (Will Forte) whose food bars are sweeping the country. As luck would have it, the mogul wants him to return to his island home of Swallow Falls and retrieve the food-making machine known as the FLDSMDFR under the guise of an environmental clean-up. Bringing along his girlfriend Sam (Anna Faris), his pet monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), his frumpy father (James Caan), and associates Manny the Cameraman (Benjamin Bratt), Sardine mascot “Baby” Brent (Andy Samberg), and macho cop Officer Earl Devereaux (Terry Crews), Flint hopes to find the device and disarm it. Little does he know that Chester is plotting with his super-intelligent orangutan assistant Barb (Kristen Schaal) to reprogram the FLDSMDFR for his own nefarious purposes.
With an amazing array of cleverly combined food/animal creatures (shrimpanzees, tacodile supremes, mosquitoasts, watermelophants, and bananostriches, to name a few) and a similar level of enthusiasm as the first film, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a pleasant enough diversion. It chooses its satiric targets well (the whole Apple/iPod inspired look of Chester V’s company) and resorts of more baser humor when need be (you know the kiddies love fart and spit jokes). With newbies Kris Pearn and Cody Cameron taking over for directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, there’s a slight decline in quality, but for the most part, this remains a solid bit of fun. What’s missing, however, is heart. Previously, Flint Lockwood had to deal with being a community pariah, a disappointment to his dad, and a klutz when it came to romance. Now, he’s made peace with the people, has a great relationship with his pops, and his relationship with Sam is going gangbusters.
So, in essence, a happy Flint is a less compelling Flint. In fact, throughout most of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, he is reactionary, resorting to reams of exposition in order to keep the relatively simple plot in check. We stare in eye candy delight as the movie explores the Lost World-like Swallow Falls as well as the various personality beats on display (Crews, taking over for an MIA Mr. T, turns Devereaux into a collection of conflicting comic machismos), but the story arc is so basic that it doesn’t end up offering any surprises or twists. Flint is conned, his friends come to his aid, and the machine is, once again, the focal point of a last act chase and rescue mission. Along the way, the ingenious critters keep us occupied, their often cutesy pie mannerisms providing some much needed emotional heft.
With its wealth of merchandisable elements and an easily exploitable premise on their hands, one imagines a future filled with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies. As long as they are as breezy and pleasurable as this sequel, audiences and the adults with them won’t really care.