Freely adapted from the 1978 children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett, the new animated movie Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs feels like a warning from another era. A parable about the perils of living amid abundance, it arrives at a moment when even Sesame Street has had to address the seemingly endless economic recession. Hey, message already received, the hard way. Of course, kids probably won’t mind. And if they’re lucky, they may even get a chance to appreciate its warning about the dark side of easy living.
It also helps that the film, co-directed and co-scripted by first-time feature-makers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, doesn’t get too bogged down with moralizing. It flits swiftly between easy-but-funny sight gags involving giant food, send-ups of disaster-film clichés, and endearing characters brought vividly to life by a pleasing visual style, plus funny vocal performances from Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Bruce Campbell, and Mr. T. Hader plays a hapless geek with a lifelong gift for building inventions that almost work. His luck changes—and with it, the luck of his island town, whose sardine-based economy has been hit hard by the revelation that, as one headline puts it, “Sardines Are Super Gross”—when he unveils a machine that makes the sky rain whatever food he chooses. But the tremendous gift works largely to make his fellow citizens lazy, and it leaves Hader no happier than before, even with the arrival of a pretty weather reporter (Faris) who shares some of his nerdy obsessions.
Between dispensing lessons about the important of staying industrious and the kids’-movie staple of staying true to yourself, Meatballs focuses on clever gags—some involving a monkey with a voice translator that only reveals the shallowness of his interests, others featuring Andy Samberg as a man who’s spent his whole life coasting on once having served as a sardine company’s adorable baby mascot—and some surprisingly touching stuff with Hader’s inexpressive, uncomprehending dad (James Caan). It’s a brisk, bright, winning effort, even though it already looks sadly out of touch with the times.