WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Based on the beloved children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs tells the tale of Flint Lockwood an eccentric young inventor who spends his days in a makeshift laboratory building monkey-thought translators spray-on shoes “hair unbalder” serums and other strange creations. Regarded as a troublemaker and a nuisance by the residents of the small town of Swallow Falls Flint dreams of one day making something that will win their respect and earn him a place alongside the Edisons and Da Vincis of the world.
Flint thinks his latest invention a machine that turns ordinary water into gourmet meals at the touch of a button just might do the trick. But his big unveiling goes predictably awry when his machine launches like a rocket through Swallow Falls laying waste to the town square before eventually disappearing into the stratosphere.
Just when it appears that the townsfolk have finally had enough of Flint’s antics salvation arrives in the form of cheeseburgers raining from the sky thrilling the throngs of hungry people below. Success! Flint’s machine actually works — albeit not quite in the manner he originally intended.
WHO’S IN IT?
Lending his voice to the character of Flint is Bill Hader a Saturday Night Live regular who’s appeared in small roles in a ton of high-profile comedies including Tropic Thunder Pineapple Express and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Anna Faris (The House Bunny) co-stars as Sam Sparks a weathergirl whose bubbly on-screen persona masks a keen intellect she’s terrified to reveal — lest she be branded a “nerd” and shunned by the community of shallow talking-head news correspondents.
Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell voices the sleazy manipulative Mayor Shelbourne a wildly ambitious politician who eyes Flint’s invention as his ticket to higher office. James Caan (The Godfather) plays Flint’s well-meaning but emotionally distant father Tim a blue-collar fisherman who can’t find a way to relate to his brainy offspring. And fans of A-Team and Rocky III will instantly recognize the voice of Mr. T as Earl Devereaux the tough-minded town cop whose job is devoted primarily to preventing Flint from inadvertently destroying the town. Rounding out the main cast is Neil Patrick Harris (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle) as Flint’s trusted monkey assistant Steve.
The animation of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is truly a joy to behold. With each successive meal that falls from the sky comes a brilliant new array of patterns and colors all of which burst from the screening in dazzling 3-D. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller rightly recognize the visual potential of the source material with its endless variety of colorful food items and serve up a delicious buffet of brilliantly-rendered set pieces.
But the film isn’t just a bundle of digital eye candy. Perhaps most pleasantly surprising about the film is the script’s sharp wit and clever observations which help make the experience enjoyable on a cerebral as well as visceral level.
Lord and Miller who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay did a generally solid job expanding the relatively thin source material for the big screen but the story still feels weak at times. It’s just engaging enough to keep you interested but not quite enough to make a lasting impression.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is something of a culinary rollercoaster. As food first begins to fall from the sky you might find yourself feeling a bit hungry. But as the plot progresses and Flint’s machine starts to spin out of control bombarding the town with every kind of slop imaginable don’t be surprised if your stomach starts to get a little queasy!
Baseball doesn’t hold quite the same magic as it once did. That’s why they had to set Everyone's Hero in the Depression-era when the New York Yankees ruled the game and their star player Babe Ruth sat on the throne. As the story goes a young boy named Yankee Irving (Jake T. Austin) has to save his dad’s job as a janitor at Yankee Stadium after Ruth’s beloved bat is stolen by the big bad Chicago Cubs owner (Robin Williams) and his lackey (William H. Macy) right before the World Series. Yankee’s dad is blamed for the theft so the kid obsessed with the Babe and doesn’t want his family living in the streets sets out on an adventure to get the bat back. He has some help chiefly from an old forgotten baseball (Rob Reiner) —who was once in the Show but got hit out of the park as a lousy foul ball—and the bat itself nicknamed Darlin’ (Whoopi Goldberg) who sasses her way through the shenanigans. Warms your heart already doesn’t it? It seems everyone’s having a good time. Reiner is particularly cantankerous as Screwie voicing the baseball as if he was an old Jewish man yelling at the kids on the street for making too much noise. Not a whole lot to like about the character but he provides comic foil especially with Goldberg as the pampered bat who knows how kind the real Babe is. For some odd reason Williams is un-credited as the blowhard Cubs owner Napoleon Cross but it’s not too hard to pick out his distinctive voice. Maybe the actor didn’t want to be labeled a bad guy. But Macy is sufficiently wacky as Cross’ henchman and Cubs pitcher Lefty McGinnis who has all manner of bad things happen to him--electrocuted hit by a train you get the picture—as he chases after the kid and the bat. In retrospect slamming a movie co-directed by the late Christopher Reeve as a pet project for his young son (with wife Dana Reeve who died of lung cancer earlier this year providing the voice of Yankee’s mom) seems a tad coldhearted. But unfortunately even with all the heart soul--and apparently lots of time--poured into it Everyone's Hero still comes off as bland and overdone. There’s the same hackneyed dialogue filled with the same feel-good messages (“Have faith in yourself!” “Friends stick together!”) and the same insipid pop tunes peppered throughout. It may have been more interesting if the whole story were told from the baseball’s point of view. How about if ALL the equipment talked--the mitts the bases et. al.--and we saw the game through their eyes? Not bad eh? If only this had been my brain child...
In adapting a rather flimsy children’s book into a full-fledged feature film one has to take some liberties. We first meet the lovable little monkey in the wild where his curious habits wreck havoc. Meanwhile in the big city Ted (voiced by Will Ferrell)--aka The Man with the Yellow Hat--is a highly enthusiastic guide at the soon-to-be-closed Bloomsberry Museum. In order to save the museum (here’s where they pad it) he is sent on a mission to Africa to retrieve a lost shrine. But when he gets there the only thing he finds is a miniature version of it--and George of course. The lonely monkey decides to follow Ted all the way back to the city where his mischievous tendencies get him into even more trouble. George nearly ruins everything for Ted but somehow the little feller eventually grows on him. How could he not? If I can borrow a line from Madagascar little George is so cute I just like to dunk him in my coffee. When you’re reading Curious George out loud to your kids you don’t get the impression The Man with the Yellow Hat is a good-natured but geeky fellow gangly clumsy and clueless about women. Thank goodness the film has Will Ferrell to clear it up for us! You basically know what you’re in for once you recognize his voice and his natural comic timing shines through lending for some funnier moments (“OK I’m looking directly into the sun. Staring right at it. I’ve got to be honest with you it stings…”). The other voices in the film also do a fine job including Drew Barrymore as a schoolteacher who has a crush on Ted; Eugene Levy as the mad museum scientist; Dick Van Dyke as the museum’s old-time curator; and David Cross as his weasly greedy son. Based on the books and illustrations by Margret and H.A. Rey Curious George embraces the essence of the timeless stories created 65 years ago. The film apparently took awhile to find its voice. Producer Ron Howard originally conceived it as live-action film but quickly realized they could never get a real monkey as cute and fuzzy as George. Then CGI was considered but ultimately the filmmakers kept returning to the source: the late H.A. Rey’s original painstakingly beautiful illustrations. Thankfully they stuck with that idea. Curious George is lush and vibrant with all of Rey’s best efforts fully realized in Technicolor. And much like what the Piglet’s Big Movie did with Carly Simon and The Wild Thornberrys with Paul Simon Curious George is also sprinkled with original songs by hot pop singer Jack Johnson to give it a modern feel. So what if the story gets a little overblown in parts it will still introduce one of literature’s most enduring icons to the young-un’s--while allowing the adults to reminisce.
As the Ice Age ends we meet Kenai a headstrong teenager anxiously waiting to receive his "totem" or symbol from the Great Spirits that will help guide him through life. His two older brothers Sitka and Denahi have really cool totems--an eagle and a wolf respectively--and Kenai is hoping to get something equally manly. Yet when Kenai is given a bear totem which represents love the young man is humiliated and he vents his frustrations by charging after a bear that's stolen a basket of fish. His brothers rush to stop him and the ensuing battle with the bear ends in tragedy: Sitka dies trying to save Kenai and the grief-stricken younger brother vows to hunt the fleeing animal down in revenge. Just as Kenai catches and kills the bear the Great Spirits start their fun transforming Kenai into a bear and telling him that to become human again he must find the place where "the lights touch the mountain." Kenai a very reluctant bear sets out on his quest picking up a traveling companion--an oh-so-cute bear cub named Koda--who knows the way. Kenai begins to see the world through the bear's eyes and as he gains respect for the animal he finds the true meaning of his totem. Imagine that. It's a formulaic story but somewhat enjoyable and certainly no kid will find fault with it.
Despite thematic similarities Brother Bear is no Ice Age. While both films succeed in conveying a heartwarming message about man and nature during prehistoric times Ice Age is full of clever dialogue and witty banter giving stars such as Ray Romano and John Leguizamo a chance to shine as animated characters. Brother Bear's dialogue sounds more preachy and Saturday morning cartoonish which leaves the voice cast very little to work with--including the Oscar-nominated Joaquin Phoenix as Kenai; Bernie Mac's Jeremy Suarez as little Koda and D.B. Sweeney as Sitka. The saving graces at least for the parents in the audience are Rutt and Tuke a pair of wisecracking moose. Voiced by old friends and SCTV alums Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas the moose performances recall brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie a hilarious pair of Canadian brewery workers Moranis and Thomas immortalized on SCTV (and in film too--remember the 1983 Strange Brew?). Of course Rutt and Tuke are a slightly modified version of the McKenzie brothers since they don't actually wear down jackets drink copious amounts of beer or complain about the hosers of the world eh? Still you can tell pros Moranis and Thomas had fun as their moose counterparts commenting on whichever situation they happen to find themselves in. Pay particular attention to their banter as they catch a ride on the backs of some traveling woolly mammoths.
Disney's Brother Bear animators use all their handy little tricks to paint a rugged and spectacularly beautiful Pacific Northwest landscape but Bear ultimately comes off as another commercial Mouse House product made to generate Christmas merchandising bucks. You get the feeling these guys can do this stuff in their sleep and you suspect they probably did. Even the original songs which usually stand out in a Disney film seem fresh off the assembly line. Singer-songwriter Phil Collins penned six brand new songs for this movie including the main theme song "Great Spirits " but they all seem to hearken back the formula he used in the Academy Award-winning "You'll Be in My Heart" from 1999's animated Tarzan--similar rhythms same basic tune if a little easier on the bongo drums. This is the Pacific Northwest after all not the African jungle.
Leave it to Pixar to come up with another clever story. We are introduced to a thriving monster metropolis where Monsters Inc. employs an elite group of big bad guys to go into children's closets and gather the city's energy supply--the children's screams. But lately there has been an energy crunch; it seems kids are not getting as scared as they used to. Enter top Kid Scarer Mr. James P. Sullivan a.k.a. Sully (voiced by John Goodman) a big blue fuzzy monster who along with his assistant Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) a green one-eyed wisecracker gets potent screams from the kiddies. Unfortunately the one thing Sully Mike and the others are deathly afraid of is the children themselves. And when one child Boo (voiced by Mary Gibbs) makes her way through the closet door into the monster world things get decidedly complicated for Sully who learns kids aren't so scary after all.
Honestly how could you go wrong with the vocal talents of John Goodman Billy Crystal Steve Buscemi and James Coburn? In Monsters Inc. they absolutely shine. Oscar-winning Coburn brings the head of Monsters Inc. Mr. Henry J. Waternoose a crablike spidery monster vividly to life. Buscemi as the evil Randall Boggs a slimy serpent monster who can camouflage himself to blend with anything plays the perfect foil to Sully a monster with grand plans who rivals the big guy in the quota for kids' screams. Crystal is hysterical as Mike with enough neuroses and wild antics to offset the sweet Sully--without stealing the show. Even the little girl Boo comes across convincingly as a two-and-a-half-year-old especially when she sings in the bathroom. It's Goodman who makes the movie complete--his Sully is one big galoot you can wrap your arms around.
Pixar Animation must constantly search high and low for the cream of the crop in animation and story development; they never settle for second best. The studio has the Midas touch when it comes to computer-animated films--its three features so far Toy Story Toy Story 2 (still one of the best sequels ever made) and A Bug's Life have grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide. Yes Dreamworks may have given Disney a run for its money with its spectacular summer blockbuster Shrek but Pixar isn't going to roll over that easily. Monsters Inc. is a wonderfully inventive film especially in its creation of such otherworldly settings as the factory and its assembly line of closet doors. The movie combines all the right elements--there's a good guy a funny sidekick a slimebag a climactic chase scene and an adorable reason for things to end happily.