Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

I admit that I'm sort of a "Pixar snob", in that the only computer animated movies I really trust are those cranked out by the story-obsessed team at Pixar. Most everything else is crap.

However, I will get out once in a while to see the competition if a friend is involved. I saw Kung Fu Panda because an old college pal co-directed it, and I saw Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs because my old roommate worked on the story team (meaning, I guess, that he developed a lot of its visual gags), and another good friend was one of the lead animators.

This isn't my long-winded justification for seeing a bad movie, because Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is not at all a bad movie.

In this very loose adaptation of the children's book of the same title, a nerdy young inventor creates a machine that can turn the water in the sky into food. This scientific miracle revives the little island in the Atlantic that he and a few hundred remarkably American-looking people live on. Then, inevitably, things go wrong, and we wind up with what could be called the first animated disaster movie.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller don't have much of an animation pedigree, outside of the short-lived (and quickly forgotten) TV series Clone High; they are better known for overseeing the live action sitcom How I Met Your Mother. But they handle a crack team of animators and designers who have come up with something fresh.

The cartoony characters (designed by Clone High alum Carey Yost, yet another old classmate of mine) are delightful – far more attractive than Dreamworks' ugly character designs, yet distinct from Pixar's humanoid figures as well. These stylized people mesh surprisingly well with the photo-real effects animation (the water, the clouds, and even the food all look lifelike) and the "acting" done by the animators is first-rate.

As for the story, well... It's satisfying, and there are lots of Pixar-like twists and turns during the last act, but all in all it's pretty much the usual loner-with-a-dream fable that you've seen before, only told manically.

The pacing of the film is exhausting, and I didn't even see it in 3-D. Maybe I'm just becoming an old man, but I preferred the relaxed pacing of Up to this zany, Tex Avery-on-speed approach. The movie could have done with a couple of slower moments just to let audiences catch their breath. But I guess that wasn't the point, and the movie's become a hit in spite of (or because of) that. Who am I to say what the kiddies will go for these days?

Anyway, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs offers plenty of witty, creative, and stunningly detailed animation. If you can keep up with it without needing a time out, you'll find it a fun ride.