Tuesday 26 January 2010

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009) [Blu-ray]

Tuesday 26 January 2010
WRITERS & DIRECTORS: Phil Ford & Chris Miller
(based on the book by Judi Barrett & Ron Barrett)
VOICES: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan & Bruce Campbell
RUNNING TIME: 90 mins. BUDGET: $100m
Very loosely based on a children's book by Judi Barett that I'm totally unaware of, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (hereafter Meatballs) is the latest release from Sony Pictures Animation, who previously gave us the inauspicious Open Season and Surf's Up. Thankfully, their latest endeavour proves much more encouraging in an industry dominated by Pixar and DreamWorks, thanks to the fact it embraced a style of lunacy most other CGI animations are shying away from. Meatballs' sense of craziness, tethered to a surreal storyline and characters that bend, bounce and contort their bodies ensures it's one of the most imaginative and funny animated adventures of recent times...

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is a budding inventor living on the remote Atlantic island of Swallow Falls (literally situated under the "A" on the map), a fishing community that relies solely on sardines for its finances, whose technophobe father Tim (James Caan) runs a boring Bait N' Tackle shop. When the island's Baby Brent Sardine cannery closes for business, failed crackpot inventor Flint resolves to create a device that can transform the plentiful supply of seawater into edible food...

Working with his pet monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), whom he has outfitted with a voice translator, the fruit of Flint's labour is accidentally launched into the sky during the unveiling of a "Sardine Land" theme park to attract tourists, and the resulting storm of food that rains down from the sky starts to transform the town's ailing fortunes and rumbling bellies. Flint grows close to a cute TV reporter called Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), sent to cover the extraordinary meteorological events that he can now summon from his lab, but he soon starts to realize that his invention could be detrimental to the health and safety of the townsfolk...

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is a great deal of fun, thanks primarily to its creative, screwy humour. It may lack the heart and finely-tuned emotions that underpin Pixar efforts, or the satirical swipes of Shrek, but it's oen of very few "digimations" that makes an effort to be more of a conventional, madcap cartoon (along with Horton Hears A Who!) I say "conventional", but its contemporaries are actually trying to emulate reality or play to adult sensibilities, whereas Meatballs is content to go crazy with bizarre visuals, slapstick comedy and witty one-liners. The sight of pizza slices, cheeseburgers, banana, pies, and the titular meatballs, raining down from the heavens (eventually becoming the seeds of a global "perfect storm"), are beautifully achieved, and it's actually quite surprising where the film's storyline takes us. Indeed, a lot of Meatballs' success is down to how unpredictable everything feels, and how much its creators seem to be having fun with their crazy visuals and silly gags.

It's a film where Mr. T plays an overeager police officer, where a boy and a girl bounce around inside an enormous Jell-O on a date, where a monkey can talk, where the child star of an old sardine commercial is still prancing around in an adult diaper, where spray-on shoes exist, where crossbred Rat-Birds have become a common sight, where a tornado made of spaghetti destroys buildings, and where giant processed chickens come to life to attack people. Let's just say it was of no surprise to me that former-Ren & Stimpy artists Chris Reccardi and Carey Yost had a hand in the film's eccentric design, or that several trendy comic actors lent their vocal talents to this enterprise; from Saturday Night Live's Bill Hader and Andy Samberg, to How I Met Your Mother's Neil Patrick Harris.

Overall, this movie should please kids and big kids alike. There's enough fun and silliness for the under-10s, some heart for the teenagers to enjoy (Flint has a rocky relationship with his emotionally-detached dad, there's a theme of embracing your true potential and not being afraid to be yourself), and some clever little jokes for the adults to chuckle over. It offers something different in its own crowded marketplace, and that can only be applauded.


Picture: (2.39:1 / 1080P / AVC/H.264/MPEG4) As is typical of movies created inside a computer, there are no major faults to the picture quality, beyond a few speckles of "artifacting" and an aesthetic choice to make the image fairly soft-focused. But, generally; great colours, deeps blacks and strong image delineation.

Sound: (English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Audio Description DD 5.1) I have no complaints with the surround sound audio from the lossless DTS-HD mix, which kept dialogue very clear and threw enough sonics around my living room to keep me happy. Weather-based action sequences, particularly in the finale, are of course the highlights.

The Blu-ray disc release also comes with a DVD as part of its "combi" pack, which is identical to the Blu-ray disc except for the lack of the "Splat Mode" outlined below.

Special Features

Splat Mode (HD) An interesting use of Blu-ray technology, perhaps best suited to very young kids, where you can fling various foodstuffs at the screen as you watch the movie using your remote control's colour buttons.

Flint's Food Fight Game (HD) This is a fun little Space Invaders-esque mini-game, where you have to blast food as it advances down the screen towards you.

Audio Commentaries. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller team-up with lead voice actor Bill Hader for this enjoyable, if fairly lightweight yakker track. But it does highlight how nutty Lord and Miller are.

A Recipe for Success - The Making Of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (HD, 11 mins.) Your standard Electronic Press Kit (EPK) featurette, giving you a broad overview of the process involved in making a CGI animated movie. Lord and Miller are entertaining, though.

Key Ingredients: The Voices Of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (HD, 12 mins.) Likewise, this is one of those featurettes where it's of mild interest to see the real-life actors standing in front of microphones and delivering their lines, but nothing to really get excited about. Fun to see Hader and Faris eating junk food while they speak, I guess. Method voicing?

Extended Scenes (HD, 3 mins.) Two scenes from the movie are extended here (Flint's elevator, spaghetti twister), with the first one unfortunately presented in a half-finished form.

Early Development Scenes (HD, 6 mins.) Two fairly interesting rough sequences from the movie's gestation, but nothing special.

Progression Reels (HD, 9 mins.) Here we have 8-minutes of demo's from Meatballs' creative process, commented on by VFX supervisor Rob Bredow. Actually quite illuminating, particularly if you're keen on animation and how it's created.

Music Video (SD, 4 mins.) The "Raining Sunshine" track from the end credits gets its own music video, complete with a Sing-A-Long version, but as it's pretty terrible I doubt anyone will be playing it, much less singing along. Includes a brief Making Of featurette, too. Terrible.

Trailers: Contained on the disc are HD trailers for "Hachi: A Dog's Tale", "Open Season 3", "'Planet 51," "Open Season", "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep", "Open Season 2", "Surf's Up", "Monster House" and "Daddy Day Camp."