When it comes to animated family films Disney was the reigning king for decades, with only the occasional challenger which was always quickly swatted away. Things changed when Dreamworks came on the scene, especially after the release of “Shrek.” Suddenly it was a two studio battle, and then Sony entered the fray unexpectedly with the delightful “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” The film was high energy but also had a great deal of heart that helped it stand up to being compared to Disney or Dreamworks. Now the sequel has come out, and the energy remains while other key aspects are somewhat lacking.
“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” picks up right where the last film ended, with inventor Flint Lockwood having shut down his out of control Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator (FLDSMDFR for short.) Though the device has been deactivated the island that Flint inhabits is still overrun with massive amounts of food. In swoops Flint’s childhood hero, inventor Chester V, who offers to relocate the townsfolk temporarily while he takes charge of the cleanup. Flint finds himself working for Chester’s company, Live Corp, trying desperately to impress his idol. He soon has the chance when it’s revealed that the FLDSMDFR is not only still active, but creating living food animals (or foodimals.) Flint, along with his father and friends, is sent back to the island to deactivate the FLDSMDFR for good before the foodimals can escape the island and wreak havoc across the globe.
Virtually all of the original cast returns to voice the characters who appeared in the first film. The only change was Mr. T being replaced by Terry Crews, but it’s such a seamless switch that most probably won’t notice. Bill Hader is still wonderfully endearing as the over enthusiastic Flint, while Anna Faris remains grounded as ever as his love interest Sam Sparks. Some of the other returning characters, such as Benjamin Bratt as Manny and Andy Samberg as Chicken Brent, feel a little forced but they’re still utilized well. As before, Neil Patrick Harris as the monkey Steve steals many of the best moments with his simple mindedness. The newcomers fair well enough, but they aren’t as inherently endearing as the returning cast. Will Forte voices Chester V, who is a bit of a mash up of Steve Jobs and a yoga guru, while Kristen Schaal voices his assistant Barb who is an orangutan with a human brain. Chester’s inability to stand still is visually intriguing at first but starts to get old by the end of the film.
What this sequel perfectly retains is the original’s fast paced sense of humor. It’s a fine balance of quick paced jokes without ever having the film feel spastic or hyperactive. There’s always plenty going on but the film also knows when to slow down a little and let the audience breathe. Without a doubt the highlight is all of the various foodimals, such as shrimpanzees, hippotatomuses, cheespiders and so many more. Between the word play and the visual inventiveness of these creatures it’s a boundless and fully realized world that is a ton of fun for the audience to watch.
However what the film is lacking is some of the original’s heart. The problem is a typical one for sequels, which is that the characters all had complete journeys in the first film. This means that they either remain at status quo in this film without any growth or the film is forced to manufacture a new personal issue for them to overcome. In the case of Flint it’s the latter, with his desire to impress Chester blinding him to the advice and importance of his friends. While this conflict is slightly forced, most of the other characters are given little to no personal motivation. Take James Caan as Flint’s father Tim. Caan, as before, does fabulous work but because Tim and Flint came to terms with each other in the previous
film he feels very superfluous to the story this time around. Part of the beauty of the first film was that nearly EVERY character had personal growth: Tim and Flint had to bond as father and son, Sam had to learn that she shouldn’t be hiding her brains, Brent had to find a new purpose in life, Earl had to stop being so judgmental, etc. This time there’s a new manufactured journey for Flint and everybody else is just along for the ride.
Really the faults of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” are really only issues when compared to the first film. Taken completely unto itself this sequel is a fun ride that kids will love and parents will find enjoyable as well. It’s only because the original was such a winning film that this feels like a small step down. However the foodimals alone are worth the price of admission, and while the characters may not be as deep this time around they’re all still fun to watch.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5