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Little by little, the world of American animation is nudging its way over to being truly fun for the whole family, including the family members that donít have children.  Whiplash quick and sharp as a tack, the animated adaptation of the well-loved bedtime story by Judi and Ron Barrett, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, is a sweet, sugar-hyper blast.

Directed by first-time feature animators, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, with plenty of affection for the heart if not the gentle style of the original childrenís book, the two young film makers told me they made a film full of things they liked.  Whatís not to like about the story of a misunderstood wannabe scientist who creates a machine that makes cheeseburgers, pancakes and mountains of ice cream and candy fall from the sky?  Since he was a tiny tot, Flint Lockwoodís great dream was to see his name written alongside the great scientists he idolises.  Now, a young man in the depressing abandoned fishing village of Swallow Falls, his dream seems further off than ever.  After a hilarious series of failed inventions, Flint is on the verge of chucking it all in and joining his father in the familyís fishing tackle shop, but not before one last try at the old experiment game.  Meanwhile, over in a local television studio a whim of chance gives coffee girl, Sam Sparks, a crack at the big time.  Sam is instantly promoted to cover the announcement of Swallow Fallsí big attempt to rejuvenate the dilapidated town and bring back tourists.  An unfortunate encounter with Flintís latest experiment and both the hopes of renewal for Swallow Falls and Samís dreams of making it in the big time are gone with the wind.  Just when all looks bleak for Flint, Sam and the town, their prayers are answered by a force from above as cheeseburgers begin slowly falling from the skies.  Once Flint discovers itís his errant machine in the atmosphere over Swallow Falls thatís sending down this yummy goodness, he learns to control the menu of what deliciousness will plummet to earth at any given moment and the townís laughing stock becomes the saviour of Swallow Falls.  As is the way of all good things, Flint finds out that too much of anything, even juicy steaks that land on a waiting plate in front of you, can be too much when those tasty morsels begin to enlarge to roughly the size of the cow they came from.  Thanks to the increasing demands and unceasing appetite for both food and finances of the townís mayor, Flintís overtaxed machine fights back by spewing delicious vittles in deadly sizes and quantities.  It isnít long before the meatballs of the title come barreling down from the heavens coupled with a spaghetti tornado and other culinary catastrophes to rain down on Swallow Falls.  Flint, Sam and Flintís loyal monkey assistant, Steve, must undertake a dangerous airborne mission into the heart of the mutated machine to stop the Armageddon of Yumminess from destroying the world.

The directors have taken the enchanting idea of a machine that can make any desired food fall from the sky and run with it.  Lord and Miller throw everything and the Frigidaire into this movie and the result is a highly-enjoyable, fast-paced, action-packed ride.  The script is smart and holds wit for every age group.  The inclusion of pop culture iconography from the backgrounds of Flintís lab which includes an old Simon game as his security lock and Commodore 64 graphics throughout the command centre, to the genius of casting Mr. T as Earl Devereaux, vivacious and enthusiastic local enforcer of the law, were inspired choices.  Even Sonny Corleone himself, James Caan, gives a wonderfully restrained performance as Tim, Flintís devoted, affection-impaired dad.  The strictly blue-collar Timís usual mode of emotionalism is the rare rising of his overgrown Muppet-like eyebrows and mumbled fishing analogies.  More brilliant voice casting features Bruce Campbell as the gluttonous town mayor and Neil Patrick Harris as Flintís devoted pal, Steve the monkey, who sports a snazzy Royal Tenenbaums-esque headband.  The power of Doogie is such that he even manages to make lines consisting of one or two yelped syllables hilarious.

The movie is also unexpectedly gorgeous.  The character designs are easy to dismiss at first, but the rubbery complexions and unabashedly cartoonish proportions are completely appropriate for the Tex Avery-like whiplash movements of the wiry Flint.  The characters, especially Sam put me in the mind of CGI versions of Rankin-Bassí claymation characters, which according to Lord and Miller was completely intentional.  What people may not see is how carefully rendered the designs are as with Flint (Who resembles a cartoon version of author and pop icon Neil Gaiman) and his ridged, defined fingernails and the almost dreadlock-like texture of his crazy mad-scientistís mane.  While filmed in the 3D format, Lord and Miller show remarkable restraint considering the entire point of the movie is that large amounts of delicious objects are falling to earth.  The food all looks good enough to eat; the ice cream birthday party for Officer Earlís son is the stuff of dreams, with a Neapolitan variety piled in drifts deep enough for kids to throw themselves into and eat their way out of.  Flintís courtship of Sam inside a giant-sized Jell-O mold is the one of most originally romantic - and yummy - gestures ever filmed.

The story is lovely and heartwarming; this band of misfits, Flint, Sam, Flintís dad and even the town itself canít find their place in the world.  For both Flint and Sam, the lesson of staying true to themselves is delivered intelligently and saccharine-free.  Especially gratifying is Samís transformation from the pretty, perfectly coiffed newscaster bubblehead back to her true self; a four-eyed, ponytail-wearing (Complete with uncool scrunchie) super-smart geek despite knowing which the world will better accept.  Itís a great cue for little girls and bigger ones, as well.

So much fun.  Yes, even you folks without the kiddies donít need to hijack a niece or nephew or a neighbourís grade-schooler to have an excuse to see this one.  Rollicking, hilarious and whip-smart, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is an absolute delight.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

Sept. 15th, 2008






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(Courtesy of  Sony Pictures)


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