You review: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs | Ben Child

Is this a fun-filled visual feast that the whole family can dine on, or a bland by-the-numbers parent trap that leaves a bad taste in the mouth?

Pixar and Dreamworks may be the two leading lights in Hollywood when it comes to animated fare, but Sony Animation's new offering suggests there may be a new kid on the block. The critics have gobbled up Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, the studio's third movie, with some degree of gusto.

This 3D venture about a young man who invents a machine that turns water into food is based on a popular 1970s children's book, though it's a fairly loose adaptation. Here, the action is transferred to a weirdly Americanised island in the middle of the Atlantic which is overseen by the swinish Mayor Shelbourne (voiced by a very funny Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame in a welcome break from his cameos in the Spider-Man movies for old mucker Sam Raimi).

Meatballs (as you'll forgive me for calling it for the rest of this review) also provides more crowd-pleasing casting in the shape of Bill Hader, always good value in supporting roles, usually for Judd Apatow, but here voicing lead character Flint Lockwood, and Anna Faris, who has been quietly proving that she's much more than just a pretty face since that scene-stealing turn in Lost in Translation six years ago. She plays a perky weathergirl who hides her intellect in order to get ahead.

"After some of the dreck slung kiddiewards in the name of broad entertainment this summer (hang your heads, Transformers 2 and Aliens in the Attic) it's a relief to be able to wholeheartedly recommend a quality children's film packed with enough genuine invention, sharp scripting and sweet-natured charm to power a dozen lesser creations," writes Channel 4 film's Catherine Bray. "Animation and comedy have always been a good way of slipping in broadsides at social norms without looking like a preachy so-and-so, and there's more criticism of global warming, sexism in the media, obesity issues and capitalism in this one film than many an earnest documentary - but only if you care to look for it; Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs never forgets its primary function as a very funny romp."

"Phil Lord's exuberant cartoon caper proves that 3D animation is a movable feast and not the preserve of Disney-Pixar alone," writes our own Xan Brooks. "The film itself is a veritable buffet of the bland and the bizarre, the sweet and the sour, and all tastes are catered for along the way."

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs lacks the charm of some other recent offerings in this genre," writes Toby Young in the Times. "But it has enough grownup gags to keep the adults amused, and their children will laugh themselves silly at the sight of police officers being drenched in Cheese Whiz."

Finally, the Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert, who likes 3D about as much as most children enjoy eating their greens, is quietly approving of this one.

"I continue to find 3-D a distracting nuisance, but it must be said the Sony process produces a sharp, crisp picture, with no visible imprecision between the matches of the images," he writes, grudgingly. "There is clear definition between closer and further elements. I've seen a lot of 3-D recently, and in terms of technical quality, this is the best."

For me, Meatballs, despite that horrendous title, lacks the effortless understanding of the vagaries of the human heart and spectacular attention to detail of a Pixar flick, but stands head and shoulders above other recent animated fare such as Ice Age 3 or Monsters Vs Aliens. The first half is as insightful and witty as you'll find in this hard-to-pitch form, where writers often struggle for coherency as they vie to keep the kids happy while also dropping in the occasional spot of satire or double-meaning to please more sophisticated palettes.

Did you manage to catch this one at the weekend? If so, did it leave a foul taste in the mouth? Or did you leave the cinema with appetite fully sated?


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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