A whimsical animated fantasy that warns against overindulgence and extols the virtues of persistence and ingenuity, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" (Columbia) is uniquely suited to watching in 3-D. Its abundance of bright, eye-popping effects makes donning those cumbersome glasses worthwhile, and the overall message is salubrious enough to recommend seeing it in conventional theaters as well.
Co-writers and directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord lay out a smorgasbord of dazzling visuals that proves entertaining if not always appetizing. Because the colorful picture serves as a reminder that gluttony is a cardinal sin, moviegoers would be well advised to go easy at the concession stand before taking their seats.
Loosely based on the children's book by Judi and Ron Barrett, first published in 1978, the plot centers on a young inventor named Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader of "Saturday Night Live") who has been ridiculed his entire life for creating numerous odd and unworkable devices. His fortunes change one day when he fashions a machine that makes food fall from the sky.
His handiwork, albeit partly accidental, gives the citizens of his economically depressed hometown of Swallow Falls, located on a remote Atlantic island, a break from their steady diet of sardines. The first storm of cheeseburgers is merely the beginning.
Flint finds a kindred spirit in rookie weather reporter Sam Sparks (voice of Anna Faris), assigned to cover the bizarre climactic phenomenon for a national television network. Sam has chosen to conceal her formidable intellect in order to get ahead professionally. But Flint encourages her to be herself, even giving her a makeover that turns her back into a nerd.
Their date inside a mountain of gelatin is one of the movie's highlights, and a relatively peaceful interlude before conditions spiral out of control.
Citizens become omnivorous, feasting on sirloin steaks, ice cream and anything else they feel like ordering up from Flint. The rapacious mayor seeks to capitalize on the situation by turning the town -- renamed Chewandswallow -- into a tourist mecca. He becomes obese in the process.
Eventually, Flint's machine goes haywire and starts supersizing food, resulting in a gigantic maelstrom that spews spaghetti and meatballs in red sauce. Supported by their respective sidekicks -- a pet monkey and a multitalented cameraman -- Flint and Sam must engage in derring-do if they hope to save the world. Amid the action, Flint's relationship with his old-fashioned father (voice of James Caan) is revived.
It's disappointing that, while the problem of what do with the excess food arises, there's never any mention of using the surplus to feed the poor. On a more positive thematic note, there is an implicit lesson about the dangers of tampering with nature and an over-dependence on science.
Even so, Flint's character may boost respect for responsible scientific learning among young people and foster the spirit of invention. Above all, one hopes this cautionary tale could promote healthier eating habits.
The film contains considerable cartoon violence, some rude expressions, a scatological reference and a few moderately scary action sequences. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. John McCarthy is a guest reviewer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Film & Broadcasting.
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