Man vs. Nature: the food fight

Be prepared for the meatier shower

Is there a single better justification for 3D cinema than the sight of mountains of food falling from the sky? (Well perhaps there is but I’m talking about family-appropriate material here.) Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) could have coasted by on its remarkable visuals alone but fortunately chose the tougher route of being an excellent film in all regards.

There’s a good chance that many people who would thoroughly enjoy this delightful film still haven’t seen it. I myself remember gagging at the sight of the movie poster and wondering how cinema could have been reduced to this. A kid’s flick where it rains meatballs? Really? Sheesh. But my initial reaction was based on a misguided attempt to assert my maturity in the face of something clearly designed to entertain kids. Yes food rains from the sky and every time it lands it’s a huge visual punchline (a giant sandwich impales itself on the Eiffel tower followed by an olive) but Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has a heck of a lot more going for it than that.

Flint Lockwood (Bill Heder) is a flaky inventor who constantly comes up with clever working inventions that all turn out to be completely impractical. After countless wacky failures (spray-on shoes a walking television rat-bird hybrids) he creates a method of turning water into food and winds up giving his hometown of Swallow Falls some very peculiar weather patterns. The townsfolk are stunned then delighted by all the free eats and begin to petition Lockwood with special food requests turning the storm clouds into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Eventually the situation gets out of hand with “Mount Leftovers” becoming an unstable threat and the food storms becoming larger and more unpredictable.

The script is unexpectedly clever with marvellous throwaway gags turning out to be important plot points later on in the film. I cackled with glee every time Flint’s failed childhood inventions reappeared in the story. The characters are likable well-defined and interact marvelously which isn’t always a given with gimmicky children’s films. I particularly like Flint’s relationship with perky weather girl Samantha Sparks (Anna Faris) a bright young meteorologist determined to downplay her intelligence in order to further her television career. (She keeps slipping up and saying smart things without realizing it and Flint gapes like a lovelorn puppy every time.) In a cute subversion of an overworked movie cliché Flint’s romantic interest in Sam fully blooms when he finally sees her with her glasses on and sporting a ponytail.

The voice cast seems to be having a gas. Bruce Campbell smarms like only he can as a corrupt mayor. Neil Patrick Harris gets huge laughs as “Steve” the talking monkey with the limited vocabulary. And there’s no mistaking Mr. T as the voice of an overly energetic cop who backflips his way through every scene while barking gravelly threats at our hero.

Getting back to the visuals this flick plays like a catalogue of crazy images you never expected to see. The protagonists spend their awkward-yet-giddy first date in a building made entirely out of Jell-O. A talking monkey rips the still-beating “heart” from the chest of an evil gummi bear. Flint dangles over a pit of sharpened peanut brittle from a licorice rope. If you have a 3D television Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will help to justify your purchase but if not then don’t use that as an excuse to miss out on this terrific movie which still works fine in two dimensions.