dirs: Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn
There I was, basking in the glory that was the presents, breakfast-in-bed, happy birthday birthdayness of my actual birthday on Saturday, when my daughter loudly and joyfully asserted that since it was my birthday, we should do what I wanted on this hallowed day.
And if that meant I wanted to watch a movie, then, by gum we were going to watch a movie. And if that movie happened to be Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, then that was the best birthday present that I could possibly want.
How did this happen? Maybe I was hungover and very suggestible, or, like most parents, I gave in to forestall having to see that look of manufactured yet still heartbreaking disappointment on a child’s face. Whatever it was, somehow I agreed to go to the cinemas to see an advanced screening of this movie.
This movie? On my birthday I should have had the gods-given right to insist that everyone watch the most spine-crackingly boring movie I could find (as long as it was no more than PG-rated). I should have made them sit through 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the even more boring Russian version of Solaris. I should have had the dictator-like right to make my family sit through all 8 hours of Bela Tarr’s Satantango without being arrested for domestic abuse.
Instead, we watched a flick where food comes to life, and it’s meant to be a good thing.
The first flick struck me as a bit, shall we say, pointless, shallow and hollow. It had enjoyable bits of quirk, and a frenetic pace, but it felt too... goofy and insubstantial to be that enjoyable. I don't expect or demand weighty significance and deep themes in children's entertainments, but I expect them, in this day and age, to both look amazing and have some decent humour, some meaning, something so that they're not just the visual equivalents of disposable junk food.
Also, there's the junk food element that bothered me. It's only a movie, I know, but something whose entire story is predicated upon thousands of depictions of junk food seems like it's one long marketing campaign for shit food aimed at kids and morons like me. That stuff works, too, never forget. I'm not claiming that the filmmakers are willing tools of the dark nexus of Maccas / the Hutts who run Pizza Hut / Hungrys / and the Dirty Bird KFC, but they might as well be.
I admit that's a bit of an odd thing to be hung up on, but it bugged me with the first flick. On the plus side, it did have a protagonist who was a science-type guy, which I liked. And he's trying to make the world a better place with his invention: a machine that converts water to food, possibly ending global starvation for ever more. And it's his hubris which drives the drama, and, as we all know, there's no point in hubris unless there's hefty dollops of punishment before the end.
It also had Mr T, playing essentially Mr T, which is great, in and of itself.
And yet, and yet, the rest of the tale (the first one) is a hyperenergised action fest where not much believable stuff happens which mostly gave me an earsplittingly awful headache. Flint (Bill Hader) is amiable enough as an ostracised scientist/nerd with inventions no-one else believes in, but, really, who cares?
This second one does have a few other elements going for it. It doesn't have Mr T, though, and that's already a mark against it.
The efforts of our head nerd rendered the island he and his fellow villagers lived on inhospitable, and, luckily, someone was able to step in and save them from themselves.
A self-appointed genius, being a thinly veiled Steve Jobs equivalent, called Chester V, offers to house them in his thinly veiled Cupertino, here called San Fran Jose, while his geniuses clean up their island.
It's revealed very early on, by the fact of, and from the moment of his appearance, that Steve Jobs is the villain of the piece. It takes a long time to figure out why.
Flint's mission, and everyone else who comes along to fill up the numbers, is to again stop the kooky, crazy machine that he invented from working. You see, now, it's unleashing unholy vegetable/fruit/animal hybrids organisms onto the world!
In other words, the flick morphs easily and enjoyably into a Jurassic Park clone, complete with more references to that Spielberg blockbuster than you could point a tired cliche at. Down to the rippling liquid, here morphed into rippling body fat. Yes, truly we are taking about the most brilliant of homages and pastiches.
It's actually a natural fit, connecting it to Jurassic Park, which is still a worthy flick in my estimation. The theme of hubris in each complements the storylines of either story nicely. Jurassic Park might have had awesome dinosaurs chomping on people, but its point mostly was that Man playing God by bringing back extinct species using the magic of DNA Science! is a bad idea, because no group of people is ever going to be able to factor in every single type of variable, and thus life or Nature Will Always Find a Way to break out of whatever confines someone imposes.
Break out and Kill a Heap of People, that is.
Cloudy is kiddie fare, of course, so they're not going to have scores and scores of people dying. Yet, in the person of its Steve Jobsian villain, a genius whose contempt for non-geniuses means he values no life other than his own, and Flint's susceptibility to Chester's arguments (and hypnotic vests), we see the theme of people putting Science over other people, and over other animals. And it's a bad thing, I think?
On the other hand, maybe I'm reading all of this wrong. Maybe, really, these flicks were secretly funded by Monsanto, who is using it to stealth-market the acceptability and desirability of unholy plant/animal/junk food organisms.
Think about it. At first the prospect of these new 'lives' making it to the mainland is thought to be the equivalent of opening the gates for the barbarian/zombie hordes. As the flick goes on, they are shown to have life, actual life, and feelings and such, and to be worthy of as much respect as any other organism, no longer how long its genus or species has been around. Next thing you know, they'll be selling us Shrimpanzees and Melonphants at our local green grocers.
Wait, are they then going to make the argument that vegetarianism is the next step of all this? Is that the third flick, where all food has feelings, and we have to eat our own shadows to get by? How's Monsanto going to make money off of shadows? I'm sure they'll find a way.
Maybe I'm reading too much into a flick whose purpose is to entertain kids for 90 minutes with the images of briskly animated junk food. It mostly does that, and it doesn't otherwise make parents (or at least this parent) want to gouge out their own eyes in desperation.
It's not Pixar quality, but, hell, Pixar isn't Pixar quality at the moment either.
7 times in truth it's probably no less realistic than Jeff Goldblum not getting eaten by a dinosaur despite multiple opportunities in 2 Jurassic Park flicks out of 10
“It's enough to make a grown man cry. But not this man! Get back in there, tear!” – Mr T, we hardly knew ye, - Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2