DVD Review: “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”

Written by DVD Reviews, Film

Flint Lockwood is a good inventor with poor judgment. He can make spray-on shoes and a monkey-English translator, but why? Even when he hits upon a useful invention, it all falls apart for him. Such is Flint’s lot in his hometown of Swallow Falls, where the primary food staple is sardines, presented in every disgusting iteration possible. Flint’s latest invention, a machine capable of synthesizing foodstuffs people actually want to eat, would be a boon to all his neighbors, vindication against his many detractors and a point of pride to his technophobic father Tim. Misfortune rockets the machine into the atmosphere but, lo and behold, it works! Flint becomes a hero delivering cheeseburgers, pancakes and pies to the community as the edibles rain from the sky, but it isn’t too long before his creation starts swirling a maelstrom of carbs against the town.

On the hierarchy of CG animated studios, Pixar reigns supreme for their combination of technical and storytelling brilliance. Dreamworks follows second with a hit (think Shrek, Kung Fu Panda) and miss (Madagascar) roster. Further down the food chain (pardon the pun), Sony Animation really hasn’t distinguished itself, with its spate of talking animal flicks like Surf’s Up and Open Season. There was no reason a movie under their banner, loosely based on the children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett, should have been interesting to anyone other than 3-to-9 year olds still entranced by bright, shiny loud things.

Give the majority of the credit for the film’s success, and it succeeds wildly, to writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. They took a book that focused solely on a premise (it’s raining food, Hallelujah), populated it with likable characters and enough rambunctious energy to please the youngest viewers, and then packed it to the gills with enough pop culture mojo to keep the parents grinning. A lot of that has to do with the voice casting. As Flint, Saturday Night Live breakout Bill Hader gives enough gusto not only to panic, but to the burgeoning romance he finds himself in with weathercaster Sam Sparks (voiced by Anna Faris). The real fun comes from the surrounding cast, including James Caan as Tim Lockwood, Bruce Campbell as Mayor Shelbourne, and Neil Patrick Harris yet again exploding the common perception of himself as Steve the monkey. Mr. T turns in a wonderfully ridiculous performance as Officer Deveraux.

Yes, the basic driving point of the film is slapstick, and various elements of the story have been done to death (the father/son dynamic was a major component of Kung Fu Panda and the concept of losers who wind up winning in the end will never disappear) but there’s a sense of infectious joy and silliness about the whole thing. Dreamworks’ Monsters vs. Aliens tried for that same sweet spot but wound up being much too self-conscious to really pull in the adult viewer. Lord and Miller have struck a pleasing balance, enough to satisfy a whole spectrum of audience members.

The Sony DVD for the movie looks great, even in its regular single-disc edition. The colors are bold and bright, and when Swallow Falls moves from dreary sardine-fed grays to vibrant hot dog and pizza palettes, the image really pops. The audio portion, including a fun and knowing soundtrack by Mark Mothersbaugh, has great presence and is likely to give even starter surround sound set-ups a vigorous workout. The image has two configurations – a 1.78:1 version for the full space of modern widescreen TVs and a 2.35:1 version for the full width of the theatrical presentation. The latter is preferred not only because that was how the film was intended, but the minimal letterboxing hardly matters with those new monitors. The special features on the disc include a commentary track from Hader, Lord and Miller and aside from the usual promotional trailers, that’s it for this. A two disc set features much more in terms of extras and, no doubt, the Blu-ray edition will blow both of them out of the water.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a modest hit in the theaters and stands to be a huge release for home consumption. If you enjoy a healthy portion of manic absurdist humor that doesn’t hide it’s heart under false, mawkish melodrama, you’ll likely love the film as much as your kids do.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is available from Amazon.com.

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