The kids who loved the zany humor in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, a digitally animated film version of a children’s book that mused on the hypothetical situation of clouds raining down prepared food on a small town, will probably love the even further heightened zaniness of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. The adults who appreciated the cute romance between the clumsy inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) who created the surreal weather disturbances and the aspiring meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), who fell for him, however, may feel a little dissatisfied.
In this sequel, Flint and Sam venture back home for a clean-up assignment. Joining them are some of the last film’s regulars, including Flint’s fisherman father (James Caan), Flint’s former bully turned pal Brent (Andy Samberg), Sam’s steely Guatemalan cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), Flint’s “lab assistant” monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), and the town’s burly cop Earl (Terry Crews replacing Mr. T). Flint takes the job to impress his science idol Chester V (Will Forte), who is the celebrity CEO of a company called Live Corp that manufactures processed food bars and happens to have a vested interest in the leftovers.
A contrived if familiar front obscures the greed driving Chester’s faux-hippy demeanor (he greets people with “Namaste”). Live Corp’s headquarters are inspired by the play/work complex of Google and fueled by Steve Jobs-esque pep speeches from the company’s leader, who mostly uses holograms of himself to connect socially. Of course something nefarious bubbles below the surface. It’s a sly stab at Apple and its purported sweat shops in China that are used to manufacture the iPhones for which the West is so crazy.
However, the mission goes awry when Flint and the gang turn conservationists due to the irresistible cute factor of the food somehow turning into “foodimals” (tacodiles, mosquitoasts, and flamangos, among others). There is something lost without the romance at the heart of the first Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. But there are messages to be had, both overt (don’t leave your friends behind while chasing your dreams!) and subtle (don’t be distracted by smoke and mirrors into fanatical consumerism!). If it’s delivered by a wide-eyed, smiling strawberry named Barry that “jams” itself when startled, so be it.
The film may sometimes feel uneven, as the characters have little room to develop after the first getting-to-know-each-other film, speaking primarily to explain their behavior. But for every shruggable, over-expository explanation of action among the characters, you get a moment in the background like Steve the Monkey struggling with a sparkling, self-lighting birthday candle. It’s all about sight gags and puns. (Guess what foodimal inspires the exclamation “There’s a leek in my boat!”)
Some might take issue with the replacement of Phil Lord and Chris Miller with upstarts Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn. And don’t bother to untangle the writing credits, which pay tribute to the original authors, the first directors, and three other writers. And sure, despite the 3D theatrics, I would not argue that there’s something flat about Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. Maybe it’s the overly simple design of the “foodimals” at the center of the story or a lack of character dynamic between the group of friends. But, ultimately, this kiddie movie is high-geared for cuteness that will delight those who liked the preposterousness of the first film and want to see the zaniness heightened a notch.