The first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is one of my favorite movies of the 21st century, an anarchic and grotesque tour de force filled with clever gags, stylized animation, terrific vocal performances, and a brilliantly tight script. It was also a massive surprise — I went in expecting schlock and barely stopped laughing for an hour and a half.
I’ve been avoiding Cloudy 2 because there’s no conceivable way it could live up to the first, and I knew I’d just feel bummed out. Indeed, the sequel is a massive step down. The story and characters are stretched thin, callback jokes beaten into the ground (FLDSMDFR is said so often and so casually this time around that it almost retroactively destroys the hysterical introduction of the acronym in the first), and the uncanny timing of the absurd is lost. I guess it’s no surprise that a Phil Lord and Christopher Miller imitation makes the whimsical feel laborious.
And there are some unexpected problems this time around, too: Sony tries to take some inspiration from Illumination Entertainment and fills the movie with treacly-cute, Minion-esque food creatures (”foodimals”) that feel designed in a boardroom to sell merchandise. The film’s shameless attempt at being adorable throws off the film’s tone. There’s also some toothless Big Tech satire that never gets around to being clever or biting.
But I didn’t hate Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 nearly as much as I expected to: First, the animation and visual design is mostly terrific. The new villain (the movie only drags out for about one scene any ambiguity of his intentions) is Chester V (voiced by Will Forte), a Steve Jobs-esque CEO looking to recover the FLDSMDFR from Swallow Falls to aid in the mass production of his food-paste bars. Chester V is a triumph of character design, his spaghetti-like arms always moving in a slightly alien way.
Chester V offers Flint a job, encourages him to abandon his friends in mindless pursuit of his goal, yadda yadda, and the movie sends us back to Swallow Falls, the setting of the original movie.
Here’s where things get weird: The FLDSMDFR has become a Mother Nature-esque creator populating the island with “foodimals.” These are genetic abominations — and sure enough, they’re seen as monsters at first. But gradually, the protagonists come to see these as beautiful creatures that must be protected. It immediately starts raising questions about the cosmology of “foodimals”… Where did their souls come from? The FLDSMDFR? Does that make Flint Lockwood a god? Do they reproduce? Evolve? Fall in love? Poop?
Cloudy 2 has no interest in answering these questions, but it captures this bizarre food-monster ecosystem with vivid intensity and steadfast idealism. By the end, I, too, wanted “foodimals” to survive, if only for the Cars 2-esque debates about how the hell this bizarro world operates.
So cheers to you, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. You’re not a good film, but you’re kinda batshit, which is the best possible way to not be good.