Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Underrated Part 7: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

It is with a degree of shame that we discuss this film: shame because we, like so many, failed to realize what this movie was when it was released.  Indeed, when it was in the theaters last fall, we opted to stay home.  We'd just been to see 9 and didn't feel the need to rush to another CG film.

We'd have been far better off skipping 9 and seeing this instead.  Not only is it a better movie; it turns out it's better science fiction.

If we could offer up one point in our defense it would be this: we had no idea it was SF at all.  Sure, there was a scientist in the commercials, but that hardly earns a movie the badge of science fiction. 

In this case, however, there can be no doubt.

Despite its use of slapstick, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs uses over-the-top and impossible technology as a lens to consider issues and ideas relevant to today.  Plus, they integrate a number of classic images and tropes of the genre; never in a way that breaks the tone or intrudes on the story, but rather in a manner that enhances the experience of watching.

Also, the visuals are beautiful, the jokes are absolutely hilarious, and the characters are fascinating.  All around, this is a great movie.  A great movie with rat-birds.  God, we love the rat-birds.  Even more than the walking television, a brilliant character in his own right.

There are moments when we thought the movie was about to fall apart, when things began pushing the boundary between absurd and wacky.  But, rather than spin out of control, the filmmakers managed to pull things together, no matter how bizarre the situations became.  There's a rule in film making that you never show a loaded gun in the first part without showing it fired.  Well, this is a movie with dozens of loaded guns.  But, instead of guns, they're rat-birds, peanut allergies, and a talking monkey voiced by Neil Patrick Harris.  These aren't throwaway jokes: they're woven into the story.  The resolution is, in part, extrapolated from these elements, but they're only pieces of the puzzle.

So, it's good.  But how good is it?

Allow us to be clear by retracting a statement we made when we reviewed How to Train Your Dragon:
"We are still waiting for a CG movie that's better than Pixar's worst film.  We're waiting for Dreamworks - or anyone else - to make a CG movie that was better than Cars."
It turns out that movie already existed.  We just hadn't seen it yet.  While Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a long way from movies like Up or Toy Story 3, it's better than Cars or A Bug's Life.  To date, it remains the only non-Pixar CG movie we've seen better than Pixar's worst films.  That's a major achievement for something based on a book everyone - us included - thought shouldn't be adapted in the first place.

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