In an early scene from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, inventor protagonist Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) enters a factory full of lab-coated workers. Lockwood perks up instantly after consuming many cups of coffee handed out at stations around the lobby. As another character puts it, the constant stream of caffeine is “mocha motivation,” which helps to keep the inventors excitable and alert with fresh ideas.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is an animated sequel full of this coffee-drenched inspiration, although more linked with zany energy than originality. The film is always trying to overwhelm you with dazzling animation, sight gags and brisk action-packed moments, hoping it all sticks. However, this hyperactivity is noisy and frenetic, whereas moments of character and story depth barely percolate to the surface.
The sequel to the 2009 animated comedy hit, based on a children’s book from Judi and Rob Barrett, spends its first moments recapping the ‘disaster of epic portions’ that climaxed the earlier installment. It then continues right from that film’s final moments, as Lockwood and meteorologist girlfriend Sam Sparks (voiced by Anna Faris) lock lips and decide to work together. However, Chester V (voiced by Will Forte), an inventor, TV personality and idol of Lockwood’s, interrupts them and explains that the residents of Swallow Falls must relocate to a nearby coastal town so that Chester’s green tech company, Live Corp., can clean up the leftovers.
Our inventor hero takes up a job at Live Corp., which has a factory in the shape of a lightbulb. His trip to the top of the bulb, where the upper echelons of scientists work, depends on a mission Chester V calls upon him to complete. It turns out that Lockwood’s machine, which created the edible madness in the previous installment, is working again. Worse, Chester’s surveillance footage shows that the main beast on the island – a giant cheeseburger with French fry legs – is trying to learn how to swim off the island, which means it could invade other coastal towns. Lockwood must return to Swallow Falls and destroy the system.
The inventor returns to the island alongside Sparks, grouchy father Tim (voiced by James Caan), dim-witted friend Brent (Andy Samberg), gruff police officer Devereaux (Terry Crews, replacing Mr. T from the original) and Sparks’ cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt). Upon their arrival, the group finds a thriving ecosystem of living food shown off in sequences paying direct homage to the dinosaur habitats in Jurassic Park.
One’s enjoyment of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 may depend entirely on how easily one can tolerate puns. When arriving on the Swallow Falls coast, the characters make quips like “easy as pie” and “we’re toast,” followed by close-ups of the aforementioned food lying anchored to the island. (Take a guess at what the submarines surrounding the mainland are made from.) These first two puns are mildly clever. By the time the 30th food-related witticism appears, expect a lot of audience groaning.
This reliance on food-related jokes was sparer in the original film, which used its jokes to bring quirks to the humanity of the character ensemble. The film’s screenwriters – John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein and Erica Rivinoja – dim the intelligence of this brightly animated sequel by continually resorting to lame verbal wordplay to draw laughs.
Another hindrance to the animated sequel is its lack of originality. Lockwood’s tug between his old friends and his new job is uninspired and his decision to betray his companions feels more calculated to the whims of the screenplay than what the character’s past behaviour would forecast.
Moreover, Chester V is a misfire of a villain, yet another corporate crony of a green company with mere intentions for another type of green (this is not a spoiler since he is revealed as the villain within the first five minutes). Chester V looks like Steve Jobs with an orange beehive vest and an ice-cream cone-shaped beard, as if the film did not have enough edible imagery. He even makes several self-referential comments about being an evil character, which would be interesting if there was anything intriguing about his madness.
The only moments that plunge into resonating emotional territory involves the schism between Lockwood and his dad, Tim. Tim is worried about seeing his boy move off and wants to teach his kid to fish. In the film, he eventually reels for sardines with a group of pickles he befriends in an absurdly funny subplot (featuring James Caan’s surprisingly adept comic timing).
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is, essentially, a noisy and fast-paced nature documentary that replaces endangered animals for the ‘food-imal’ habitats. Here, the ‘cute’ factor of small bears and baby lions is replaced with creatures like a green-eyed strawberry (named – get this – Barry) that murmurs sweet, infant-voiced coos.
Like those docs, the film has a good, noble message aimed at younger audiences; however, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 throws so many bright colours, shrill voice performances and food puns at the crowd that it may be hard for them to notice the underpinning moral.
In fact, there are so many lazy attempts at humour by combining food and animal names that it is easy to sum up the film by making a more clever analogy using food. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is junk food: sweet and instantly satisfying for kids, but lacking the ingredients needed to provide a meal of substance for anyone else.