The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Written by James Zborowski.

Photo from the article To get the food puns out of the way at the beginning: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 contains promising ingredients, but feels half-baked.

Animal-food hybrids (the premise of the sequel) are not inherently less funny than food falling from the sky (the premise of the first film). If anything, the opposite is true. However, aside from one scene where Flint and company discover several of the islands species - which, as luck would have it, are hybrids that lend themselves very well to pun-names - the concept is barely milked for its humorous potential. The film pulls off cute and it even pulls of scary (I noticed this more than I might have had I not been sitting in the cinema next to my at one point slightly anxious young daughter), but it is not funny as often as it ought to be.

Although the scenario of 'explorers through the wilderness' is a different comic scenario from the 'small town disrupted' one of the first film, again, it is not in itself less promising. Shrek (2001) suggests itself (as it did in the short review) as an example of how to get it right. Evolving loyalties and relationships can drive comedy and drama. There are some of all these things in Meatballs 2, but, as mentioned in the short review, not enough thought appears to have been given to how to give the recurring secondary characters new and interesting reasons to be onscreen.

The first film's conceit of a down-at-heel former sardine-fishing town trying to reinvent itself as a tourist destination (after everyone realises that 'sardines taste disgusting') is well-deployed, and gives us an ambitious and unscrupulous mayor character, plus 'Baby Brent', a sardine mascot trading on the glories of days gone by. The second film's set-up and characters are much less pointed. The two most noticeable recurring jokes surrounding Flint's time at the 'Live' Corporation are that everyone there drinks a lot of coffee and that when Flint gets in an elevator his nose gets stuck. Neither, as far as I can recall, has a punchline (another indication of a lack of script polish).

Most of the voice cast from the first film return, with the notable exception of Mr T, who voiced over-zealous law enforcer Earl Devereaux but does not return for the sequel, leaving a noticeable charisma gap. The cast taken overall are competent rather than vivid. From The Lorax (2012) one remembers Danny DeVito. From Monsters, Inc. (2001) one remembers John Goodman. From Toy Story (1995) and Shrek one remembers almost everyone. Here, and especially with the absence of Mr T, there are no real star turns. (Neil Patrick Harris in a different role could undoubtedly deliver brilliance, but as a monkey whose one-word thoughts are translated by a machine, he has limited material to work with.)

To judge a film against its predecessor is surely just. To judge Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 against other big screen animations of recent years is also justified, but it should at least be noted that, given that these films are frequently home to some of the sharpest screenwriting, visual storytelling and humour in contemporary popular film, such comparison sets the bar very high.

This Alternate Take was published on December 25, 2013.

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