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Published: Sunday, 9/20/2009

It's raining fun in this clever animated story

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A scene from 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.' A scene from 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.'
COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES ANIMATION Enlarge

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is an intelligent animated film for kids.

And that may be its box-office downfall.

At a recent screening packed with children and preteens, most of the movie's jokes seemed to whiz by them, though I found myself smiling and laughing a lot.

So much for this being a kids' movie.

Fans of the popular children's book by Judi Barrett may not be too thrilled, either, with the movie adaptation. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs' co- directors and writers, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, have reworked much of the source material and modernized it for their own purposes. Considering the book is only 32 pages long and heavy on illustrations, they had little choice.

Instead of the book's fantasy tale of a place where food mysteriously rains from the sky at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the film makes the weather anomaly the by-product of an invention by Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader, Superbad and Saturday Night Live).

Flint is a nerdy outcast in a small island town whose emotionally detached father, Tim (James Caan), doesn't understand him. Tim would rather his son work in the family bait shop instead of holing up in a makeshift lab creating failed experiments.

But Flint believes he is destined for greatness as an inventor, even if all of his creations lead to trouble, such as the town's infestation by genetically mutated species of rat-birds, an ongoing gag that proves surprisingly resilient.

Flint's faith in himself is justified by a nifty contraption that converts water molecules into food. Once the device is inadvertently launched into the sky, it sucks in nearby clouds and begins to rain down cheeseburgers. The townsfolk embrace Flint's invention as part of the mayor's scheme to make the town - best known for sardines - famous. And with the help of network reporter Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), the plan works and Flint becomes a local hero. But there are side effects to his device: the more it's used, the closer it gets to dangerous overload, creating food the size of buildings. With the world in jeopardy by being flattened by pancakes, doughnuts, watermelon, and other foods, Flint and Sam join forces on a harrowing mission to deactivate the device.

There's nothing ground-breaking about Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. The animation is good but not spectacular; the same for its 3-D effects.

The voice work, though, is top-notch - it's nice to have an animated film with some not-so-recognizable celebrities in the cast - and the humor is surprisingly sharp. Lord and Miller's riff on Hollywood disaster films is particularly relevant considering the spate of such genre movies in the pipeline. There are hazards in adapting such a short story to the big screen, but the pair manage the task with enough humor and imagination to keep things entertaining through the movie's 81-minute run time; the first half-hour of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is particularly funny.

The reality is, it probably won't light up ticket sales this weekend. The movie isn't kiddie enough for its target audience, and adults won't be caught dead going to this without a prepubescent in tow.

It's the rare case of an animated movie being too smart for its own good.



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