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Film Review: ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2’

The clever, heartfelt tone of the original toon gives way to a gonzo riff on “Jurassic Park.”

With:

Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Terry Crews, Kristen Schaal.

Households with kids who don’t eat meat out of respect for other living creatures could be thrown into wild upheaval by the arrival of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2,” a thoroughly nutty sequel to Sony’s 2009 toon that anthropomorphizes every munchie imaginable. Now, even strawberries have souls — to say nothing of such hybrids as “tacodiles” and “watermelophants.” As cracked as all the pic’s Franken-foodstuffs may be, it took guts to fix such an unconventional follow-up, which could do decent biz catering to the very young and very stoned alike, while offering global merchandising opportunities galore. Too bad this philosophically conflicted junk-food lark isn’t content to rot kids’ teeth, going after their brains as well.

Until “The Smurfs” came along, “Cloudy” was the closest thing the struggling Sony Pictures Animation division had to a hit. That said, the unlikely sequel — in which frustrated inventor Flint Lockwood’s genetically modified leftovers evolve into full-blown “foodimals,” wreaking havoc on the island of Chewandswallow — aspires to a bigger audience than the first movie’s $125 million box office, and yet ties a surprising number of its jokes to the earlier film.

Judging by a prologue that clunkily attempts to recap what came before, it might have been wiser to cook up an entirely new plot than to continue where that story left off. Although “Cloudy” managed to remain emotionally grounded by an approval-seeking subplot between Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) and his dad (James Caan), at a certain point, the story went almost completely off the rails, as super-sized vittles overtook everything, and Andy Samberg’s character wound up stuck inside a giant rotisserie chicken.

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Those amused by that bonkers, “Little Shop of Horrors”-style sensibility will be delighted to find the sequel continues in the same vein, starting with the larger-than-life cleanup job facing the town. Meanwhile, fans of the original’s heartfelt quality, and the generally clever way it poked fun at disaster-movie tropes, will find this outing less to their taste, serving up what amounts to a gonzo riff on “Jurassic Park,” as Flint and his friends contend with an island overrun by mutant creations.

Instead of being humbled by the fact one of his inventions nearly destroyed the world, Flint craves recognition as a first-class inventor. His idol, the eerily Steve Jobs-like Chester V (Will Forte), exploits the creativity of others for the benefit of his soul-sucking Live Corp., which plans an iPhone-style product launch for its new Food Bar. (Surely a Monsanto-esque seed-monger have made for a better villain, or wasn’t that silly enough?)

Chester V craves access to Flint’s FLDSMDFR — the unwieldy acronym for the gizmo he invented that turns water into food. Assumed destroyed at the end of “Cloudy,” the FLDSMDFR has actually grown more sophisticated, spitting out an entire ecosystem of “foodimals” which, the film argues, deserve to live in peace. Why? Because they’re cute, including such fun-to-identify creatures as the “hippotatomus” and “fruit cockateil.” Yes, a mutant “cheespider” (a giant burger with French fries for legs and dozens of evil sesame-seed eyes) can eat you, but it also makes quite a nice pet, if you just stop to scratch its buns.

Logic doesn’t really apply in this trippy universe, where Flint, now working for Chester V and his bossy orangutan, Barb (Kristen Schaal), must track down his FLDSMDFR and insert a system-killing device. Co-directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn both served on the story team of the original “Cloudy,” and though their follow-up shows reverence for the source (with larger roles for nearly all the supporting characters, including a full-blown speaking part for cameraman Manny, voiced by Benjamin Bratt), it also violates much of what that film — and Judi and Ron Barrett’s classic picture book — stood for.

If “Cloudy” represented a worst-case scenario of what can happen when humans toy with nature, the sequel argues that society shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the freaky results of genetic engineering, shown here as a noble form of creativity. Put a smiley face on a marshmallow, and you evidently have a new species worth saving. But try to grind that adorable creature up and serve it as food, the way Chester V does, and death could be too kind a fate for such craven capitalist behavior.

Studios never tire of such hollow self-criticism, slapping anti-consumerist messaging on films clearly designed to support a minor empire of product tie-ins. Now contrast this paradoxical subtext with the relatively selfless moral the Barretts preached on the page: In their own children’s book sequel, “Pickles to Pittsburgh,” when faced with a mountain of leftovers, the characters proceed to distribute the excess food to hungry communities around the world.

Still, the filmmakers see no imperative beyond the desire to entertain here. As weird as the world they’ve created can be, it’s ripe to the point of rupture in the imagination department. Where the previous film pushed technology to make everything look edible, this one has concentrated less on texture than design, inventing dozens of funky foodimals and a robust tropical environment for them to inhabit (plus the fictitious city of San Franjose, where Live Corp.’s hilarious HQ is based), gorgeously rendered in 3D.

What Erica Rivinoja, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s script lacks in lingering nutritional value, it compensates for with amusing food puns. If nothing else, the pic’s zany tone and manic pace are good for a quick-hit sugar high.

Film Review: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2'

Reviewed at AMC Century City 15, Los Angeles, Sept. 23, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 95 MIN.

Production:

(Animation) A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation of a Sony Pictures Animation production. Produced by Pam Marsden, Kirk Bodyfelt. Executive producers, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Co-producer, Chris Juen.

Crew:

Directed by Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn. Screenplay, Erica Rivinoja, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein; story, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Rivinoja, inspired by the book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett. Camera (color, HD, 3D); editor, Robert Fisher Jr.; music, Mark Mothersbaugh; music supervisor, Kier Lehman; production designer, Justin K. Thompson; art director, Dave Bleich; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/Datasat); sound designer, John Pospisil; supervising sound editor, Geoffrey G. Rubay; re-recording mixers, Tom Johnson, Michael Semanick; head of story, Brandon Jeffords; visual effects supervisor, Peter G. Travers; effects animation supervisor, Theodor Harris Vandernoot; character designer, Craig Kellman; head of layout, James Williams; senior animation supervisor, Peter Nash; supervising animators, Joshua Beveridge, Mathew Cowie, Alan Hawkins, Tim Pixton, Kevin Webb; 3D stereoscopic supervisor, Von Williams; casting, Mary Hidalgo.

With:

Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Terry Crews, Kristen Schaal.

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