Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs [Blu-Ray]
Director : Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Screenplay : Phil Lord & Chris Miller (based on the book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2009
Much like Robert Zemeckis’s The Polar Express (2004) and Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are (2009), Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs takes a relatively simple children’s book and expands it into a massive action-adventure juggernaut, although thankfully the CGI animation sticks to the cartoonish when rendering its characters. These films are not so much adaptations as they are expansions, taking a basic premise that neatly fills a slim volume best read at bedtime and inflating it with additional characters, subplots, and, most important of all, special effects (and, in its theatrical release, 3-D rendered by Sony’s impressive new software). That is essentially the approach taken by Cloudy’s writer/director team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (making their feature-film debut) in their ambitious expansion of Judi and Ron Barrett’s 1978 book about the town of Chewandswallow and how it is beset with food raining from the sky.
The movie’s explanation for this strange phenomenon is one Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), an aspiring inventor whose contraptions routinely end in disaster. Constantly locked away in a towering, self-made laboratory in his father’s (James Caan) backyard, Flint has come up with such doozies as spray-on shoes (too bad they don’t come off) and a translator that allows his moustache-obsessed pet monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris) to express his minimal thoughts in English (example: “lick ... lick ... lick”). Flint’s latest contraption is a device that uses radiation to turn water into any kind of food he wants, but it doesn’t have quite enough power to work. He solves that problem by plugging it directly into the local power station, which results in an explosive catastrophe that is badly timed with his small island town’s unveiling of Sardineland, a sardine-themed amusement park that the ambitious mayor (Bruce Campbell) hopes will save the island from financial ruin.
Flint’s machine is launched into the stratosphere where it interacts with a cloud system and creates a rainfall of hamburgers, which excites the town to no end and fills the mayor’s head with visions of tourism and money. Thus, Flint is tasked to use his invention to ensure literal manna from the sky three times a day at the townspeople’s request, and any food that isn’t eaten is launched into a huge pile just outside of town. All of this is being covered by Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), a plucky meteorological intern who happens to be in the right place at the right time and also provides a convenient romantic interest for the otherwise introverted Flint. Problems arise, however, when the invention starts to spin out of control, producing larger and larger food that threatens to destroy the town with spaghetti twisters, massive pancakes, and, of course, giant meatballs.
Not surprisingly, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs has a fast and furious pace that bears little resemblance to the easier pleasures of the book, although that is not to say that the film itself is lacking in pleasure. Rather, Lord and Miller have crafted a movie that is funny and at times wonderfully weird, and even has a few meaningful things to say about the nature of greed (literalized in the mayor’s gluttonous growth in size), the inanity of faded celebrity (hence Andy Samburg’s perpetually adolescent “Baby” Brent, whose claim to fame was posing in a sardine ad as a tyke), and the dangers inherent in trying to fit in (which we see in both Sam’s denial of her own intelligence to escape the “nerd” label and Flint eventually endangering the town because he doesn’t want to disappoint anyone). There is also, of course, the requisite family dynamic, with Flint trying to gain his gruff but loving father’s approval.
Lord and Miller have particular fun punching up the film’s various montages by having Flint briskly and enthusiastically narrating his own actions, which both mocks the cinematic cliché and also underscores how Flint spends way too much time alone. The film’s real treat, though, is its outrageous visual design, which detours deep into the surreal during the climax when Flint and company fly directly into a food storm and find themselves stranded in a gastronomic netherworld high in the sky that includes such dangers as a peanut-brittle-spiked tunnel and an army of headless chickens (did I mention that the food becomes sentient?). The final third of the story plays as an amusing parody of Roland Emmerich-style disaster movies (Flint’s solution to shutting down his invention is taken directly from 1996’s Independence Day ... minus a Macbook). It doesn’t always make a lot of sense, but it certainly provides a feast for the eyeballs.
|Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2-Disc DVD/Blu-Ray Combo Pack|
|This two-disc set includes the film on both Blu-Ray and DVD, as well as a PSP digital copy of the film.|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||January 5, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs looks superb in its 1080p/AVC-encoded high-definition presentation on this Blu-Ray disc. While it is not presented in 3-D as it was in theaters, the quality of the digital image nevertheless gives it a real sense of depth and dimensionality. The image is bright and clear with precise detail that brings out all the tiniest nuances, from the texture of clothing to the uniquely slimy and gross sheen of a sardine. Colors are expertly rendered, whether they be the dour gray of Swallow Falls before Flint’s invention or the shiny pastel hues of his ice cream snowfall. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is also fantastic, with great sonic detail and directionality and a clean low end. Make no mistake, this is an extremely active surround soundtrack, especially when all hell starts breaking loose at the end. The spaghetti tornado is a perfect show-off sequence for your home theater system both visually and aurally.|
|The supplements provide a nice mix between the fun and the informative. The screen-specific audio commentary by directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller and actor Bill Hader was clearly fun to record, as they have a great rapport that keeps the commentary lively and entertaining without sacrificing its informative qualities. There are also several featurettes about the making of the film, including “A Recipe for Success: The Making of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” which provides a general overview of the film’s production and includes interviews with most of the film’s collaborators, and “Key Ingredients: The Voices of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” which focuses on the film’s impressive voice talent and includes interviews with Hader, Anna Farris, James Caan, Andy Samburg, Bruce Campbell, and, of course, Mr. T. Those who are especially interested in the technological side of things will enjoy the half-dozen progression reels with introductions by visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow, who shows us step by step how various shots were put together. There are also two extended scenes and two storyboarded scenes, Miranda Cosgrove’s “Raining Sunshine” music video and interactive sing-a-long, and a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the video. For pure, ridiculous fun, the disc also includes “Flint’s Food Fight” game and, my personal favorite, the interactive “Splat Mode!,” which allows you to use your remote to throw various food items (pies, fried eggs, etc.) at the screen while watching the movie--a great way to unwind after a tough day.|
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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