Odd, quirky and bizarre can get you a long way, but it can’t guarantee success. For proof, look no further than Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, one of the damn strangest animated family films I’ve ever seen. The approach taken by first-time feature directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller is strictly of the “throw in the kitchen sink” mentality; they toss a constant barrage of gags and jokes against the wall in the hopes that something will stick. The only problem is, not much of it does—something that doesn’t keep the movie from being likable and enjoyable in spite of the strange, tangled jumble that it is.
What Lord and Miller have done is taken Judi and Ron Barrett’s now more than three decades old children’s book of the same name and used the basic outline of the original, while modernizing and building upon it. The town of Chewandswallow remains with its food-based weather, from rain made of cheeseburgers to ice-cream snow, and the movie follows the same basic plot, simply fleshed out. This means we get a cause for everything in character Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), a ne’er-do-well inventor who has spent his life creating impractical or near-disastrous inventions, from spray-on shoes that can’t come off to a disgusting hybrid of rats and birds called ratbirds. But none of this stops Flint from inventing, and the town’s food shortage (they’re only sustenance is sardines) gives him a brilliant idea: a machine that can turn water into food. Which is perfectly fine, until Flint accidentally launches his machine into the atmosphere, thus causing the meteorological cuisine that makes up the bulk of the movie.
Even though this is a fairly thin premise to build a movie on top of, Lord and Miller get more mileage than they really have any right to out of it. They start off with a film that’s a screwy comedy and finish up with a strange take on disaster movies. And as bizarrely charming as the movie can occasionally be in its oddball sort of way, I can’t quite say it’s ever very funny. Sure, a man-child (Andy Samberg) wearing a giant rotisserie chicken as a suit or a monkey (Neil Patrick Harris in the most thankless role of the year) fighting anthropomorphic Gummi Bears isn’t something you see every day, but these stabs at humor also strike me as something the makers find a lot funnier than I do.
The animation is usually top-notch, despite some generic-looking character models, and the film has enough sense to move at a quick pace. However, Lord and Miller’s cheeky, postmodern view of the world just isn’t that fresh or exciting—which makes it all the more surprising to conclude that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs isn’t all that bad. Rated PG for brief mild language.