Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a lot like a marshmallow—and if you dislike my food similes, just wait till you get a load of the movie. It's like taking a two-hour trip down to Pun Town, where every joke's got a culinary root. It's almost scary how good the writers are at coming up with puns.

But, back to the marshmallow bit, and why it's important: to understand what makes Cloudy 2 (as it will henceforth be called) the movie it is, we need to rewind to Cloudy 1 and see what made it special. Released in 2009, Cloudy 1 was the second movie of the year to take a cherished, barely two-hundred word children's book and expand it into a feature-length movie (the first being Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are). Both were met with mixed expectations from fans—accusations of "They're gonna ruin my childhood!" and so forth—and both ended up actually being stellar movies.

Both benefitted from a sense of having a pre-determined concept, because their original stories are sort of the pinnacle of high-concept kid's books. But they also had room to explore. Wild Things expanded the role of the monsters as symbols of Max's personality; Cloudy made the food-weather not a random phenomena, but the product of a son (Flint, voiced by Bill Hader) desperately trying to either prove himself to his dad (James Caan), or his deceased mom, or to others, or to himself.

Image: Sony Pictures Entertainment

It's that last bit that made Cloudy 1 worth watching—it was just barely emotionally multivalent and real enough to appeal to the older-than-six crowd, while still being filled to the brim with enough bright dazzling visuals to keep little kids thoroughly entertained. Most kid's movies' "unappreciated heroes" are motivated by a sense of "I need to show my dad!" or "I need to show the world!"

What was nice about Flint in Cloudy 1 is that he just seemed like a smart, profoundly insecure guy. And because of that even slight realness, everything in the movie clicked better. The dorky awkward romance with Sam the meteorologist (Anna Farris), his relationship with his Dad, strained because of differing interests (science vs. fishing, respectively), his position as town laughingstock—none of it felt obligatory, a word that pretty much sums up every animated kid's film of 2013 so far (excepting Monsters University, of course).

Cloudy 2 is, unfortunately, included in that other category. The sequel resumes, following a brief recap of the events of Cloudy 1, literally seconds after the first ended movie ended, with helicopters descending on Swallow Falls as genius inventor (and role model to Flint) Chester V (Will Forte) announces his plans to clean up the island. The character of Chester V is pretty much as broad as a satire of Larry Page/Steve Jobs can get, and the movie's first act is a protracted excuse to tour the Google-esque LiveCorp headquarters. While entertaining, there's no heart to any of it; the only reason we should care about the characters is because we did last time.

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Cloudy 2 also suffers for having an antagonist at all. In Cloudy 1, the food-producing FLDSMDFR machine became an antagonist insofar as it was the catalyst of the action, but a description of Cloudy 1 requires the passive voice: things were going wrong, and the heroes had to fix it. And so the story allowed for character growth, at least a little bit, because the characters didn't have to be anything to move the plot along. But in the sequel, because of the introduction of the overtly sinister Chester V, Flint and co. are required to be arbitrarily stubborn or reluctant or whatever is needed to advance the plot, even if it's out of character. The sort of pleasant characteristic naturalism of Cloudy 1 is totally gone.

But let's stop and reassess here: Cloudy 2 has no responsibility to be anything more than obligatory, at least I don't think. Its deep narrative mediocrity doesn't take away Cloudy 1 for those (myself included) who want to re-watch it on appropriately inclement days. The purpose of the movie is to entertain kids, and, having seen the movie in a theater filled to the brim with kids, I can say: they all really seemed to love it. Especially the group's return to the now-tropical island of Chewandswallow (née Swallow Falls), which features all kind of culinary-animalia chimeras running around.

Image: Sony Pictures Entertainment

The jokes are broader than Cloudy 1, and the characters flatter. The opposition is more transparent and less exciting, and the plot is less captivating. But after all, Cloudy 1 was a fairly exceptional movie. Cloudy 1 was a lot like a really good hamburger: yeah, it was definitely not a steak. It wasn't even that high-grade beef. But, for what it was, it was good, and filling, and nice. You'd have it again sometime. Cloudy 2 is full-looking, and tasty at the time, but basically of pretty negligible nutritional value: the aforementioned marshmallow. It isn't a bad movie by any means. It just tries to fill 95 minutes with as many colors, dazzling sights, and quick jokes as absolutely possible, and loses the mild depth of the first in the process.

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. . . That is, it lacks non-pun-related depth. Honestly, the sheer amount of wordplay in the movie is, like, shocking. You really do have to see it to believe it.

And one thing worth mentioning: Kristen Schaal voices the ape-with-a-human-brain Barb, and she is absolutely fantastic. There's just something so simultaneously real and comically broad and energetic and sincere about her voice—she's definitely one of the best, most distinctive voice actresses working today. She manages to take a bit part in an uneven script and make it the highlight of the movie.

Caveat Spectator

The movie is rated PG for "mild rude humor": I believe the phrase "crapballs" makes a delightful cameo. A man is devoured by a cheeseburger, in a bit of a fun ironic twist.

Jackson Cuidon is a writer in New York City. You can follow him on his semi-annually updated Twitter account: @jxscott

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2
Our Rating
2 Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(10 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG (For mild rude humor)
Directed By
Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn
Run Time
1 hour 35 minutes
Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Will Forte
Theatre Release
September 27, 2013 by Sony Pictures Releasing
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