Images copyright of Sony Pictures and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Last year was not a vintage one for major animated films. Those that weren't sequels were generally lacking in originality, populated with irritating characters or unable to sustain their initial promise. One thing that can be said of several such movies from 2013, though, is that they were stunning to look at.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a case in point. The original 2009 film was about a wacky young inventor, Flint Lockwood, who builds a machine that makes food fall from the sky onto the stagnating small island town of Swallow Falls. It succeeded because it was amusing and slightly off-beat. Moreover, it managed to make the triumphant underdog story less schmaltzy by balancing sentiment with a less-than-perfect hero. The follow-up from Sony Pictures Animation feels less fresh and more commercial. Yet, the visual design is inventive enough and imbued with sufficient wit and warmth to carry the film despite a predictable plot.
Following on from the events of the previous movie, Swallow Falls has become uninhabitable and the population is being evacuated. Upon leaving the island, Flint is given the opportunity to work for his idol, the seemingly high-minded and very rich inventor Chester V.
Despite bombing at just about everything, Flint is selected by Chester to lead an expedition back to Swallow Falls. His mission is to recover his original machine from the mysterious and seemingly dangerous jungle that has now engulfed the island. Amid the remains of Swallow Falls, Flint discovers that his machine has created an entire food-based ecosystem populated by bizarre foodimals that don't all seem to be friendly.
Given that the original film focused heavily on the importance of family, it is not surprising that this adventure reunites Flint with everyone he holds dear. Unfortunately this tends to weigh down parts of the story because some members of Flint's entourage contribute little aside from mild moments of comedy. It also means there is little opportunity to introduce new characters apart from Chester V and his devoted assistant, a talking orangutan.
Chester, who is part Steve Jobs and part New Age guru, could be seen as a device to make a mockery of self-help coaches and the adulation consumers can show to companies like Apple. This added dimension is compromised, though, because his exaggerated behavior makes it clear from the outset that he is a fraud. This eliminates the possibility of a surprise twist. Instead the movie's outcome is obvious at least halfway through and the only thing that remains uncertain is how well it will be executed.
What keeps the film alive is the enchanting sense of wonder that comes from the combination of stunning visuals and imaginative design. The foodimals are oddly logical contrivances that are both charming and fittingly appropriate. As a result, it's easier to care about what happens to them than about the efforts of some of the human characters. Luckily, however, the visual impact and a general sense of silliness are enough make Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 an enjoyable, if not entirely fulfilling, second helping.