9:35 AM EDT, September 26, 2013
Thanks to the likes of "Ice Age," most animated features rely on a general wash of sarcasm-based meanness atop sequences of hammering, photo-realistically rendered peril. Throw in a rote message of friendship and a reminder of the importance of family before the up-tempo closing credits, and the people will come. Same old thing but louder? Count me in.
So when a modest, quick-witted charmer such as "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" comes along, attention must be paid.
In this case, the credit goes to the writers Erica Rivinoja (whose credits include "Grounded for Life," "Up All Night" and "South Park") and the team of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein ("The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" — we all make mistakes). Directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn take over for the sequel to the medium-size 2009 success.
This isn't groundbreaking moviemaking, either visually or in terms of story. But "Cloudy 2" moves well. The characters don't communicate primarily by way of day-old pop culture references or mean-girl/bully-boy snark. Most important, the writers and artists take the business of running gags and throwaway gags and all sorts of gags seriously. In other words: It's funny.
Having seen the first "Cloudy" several hundred movies ago, I'd forgotten most of the plot machinery. The sequel does nicely catching us up. Enterprising inventor Flint Lockwood's amazing "food replicator," which caused so much grotesquely filling havoc in the earlier film, has been destroyed. (None of this was in the original storybook; only the title survives.) The sequel introduces what happens just seconds after the end of the first. The island of Swallow Falls is evacuated by the representatives of Live Corp., whose inspirational founder is a wily combination of Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, and whose new product launch — the "8.0 food bar" — promises to be a global phenomenon.
But the food replicator's still alive and ticking. On the island, strange and tasty things have been spawned, food-animal hybrids of uncertain bloodthirstiness. Mosquitoes resembling two slices of bread? Mosquitoasts. Tacos with a suggestion of the crocodile? Tacodiles. A cuddly oversize strawberry? It goes by the name of Barry. "Cloudy 2" is insatiable when it comes to food-borne puns.
The movie's being sold on the images of marauding baked-potato hippos and the like, and certainly the film offers its share of such sequences. But as Flint, his weather caster girlfriend Sam, his fisherman-dad and his pet monkey Steve explore the mysterious island and the plot thickens, "Cloudy 2" refuses to turn into another stupid action movie disguised as a kids' diversion. For the adults, yes, there are hints of scenes from "King Kong" to "Soylent Green" to "Jurassic Park." But any sharp underager can get a laugh out of such fleet-footed bits as someone running down what appears to be an alley, hitting a wall and then realizing along with the audience that it's a billboard for an alley company ("Building quality alleys since 1973").
Bill Hader once again voices Flint, sweetly and well. Anna Faris and James Caan return, in relaxed and easygoing form, as Sam and Flint's father, respectively. Neil Patrick Harris works miracles with one-word utterances in the role of Steve the monkey. Will Forte is a bit of a drag as Chester V, the visionary Jobs-like guru, but not enough to cause trouble.
The directors realize the value of holding a shot and keeping several lines of dizzy action going within that shot, so that whatever Steve's up to, for example, can be glimpsed peripherally at first. The jokes keep coming, as does the food. The movie is better in every respect than the original "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." It's also more fun than all three "Ice Ages"; "Monsters University"; "Planes"; "Epic"; "Despicable Me 2"; and though I could go on, I won't.
"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" - 3 stars
MPAA rating: PG (for mild rude humor)
Running time: 1:35
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC