The Pixar crew have been smugly ensconced as kings of their computer-animated castle for a while now, secure in the knowledge that while the other animation houses – with their sass-talking sloths and farting ogres – might amuse the little ’uns for a couple of hours, they’d never trouble the pantheon of cartoon greats. Sony Pictures’s ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ may not scale the artistic heights of a ‘Finding Nemo’ or ‘Wall-E’, but it’s the most satisfying and original non-Pixar CG animated movie to hit screens in a while.
On a remote island principality in the mid-Atlantic, the populace have been living on sardines since the canned-fish market dried up. So plucky young scientist Flint Lockwood, inventor of overactive hair-unbalder and spray-on shoes (which you can never remove), commits himself to solving the problem. His answer is a machine which turns water into food, creating anything from sliced pizza to ice cream with toppings. It’s a success – until a freak accident happens, the machine goes berserk, and it starts to rain cheeseburgers.
The makers of the film are not remotely interested in pop-culture references or celebrity cameos: the voice cast favours stalwarts like
over inappropriate A-listers. Banishing such petty distractions frees director
to focus on more important issues, like story and character: the plot is wonderfully twisty, building to an eyeball-frazzling culinary climax of truly epic proportions. The characters are equally well drawn, from self-absorbed, overambitious doofus Flint to his expressionless but somehow heartbreaking sad-sack dad, Tim.
But the film’s greatest pleasure – and the element that sets it apart from its smarmy, in-jokey predecessors – is its bizarre sense of humour. Fusing snappy one-liners with a kid-friendly seam of slapstick incorporating everything from talking monkeys to homicidal Gummi Bears, the script provokes comparison with comedy from The Marx Brothers to ‘The Mighty Boosh’. This sense of unpredictability, coupled with some breathlessly paced and visually stunning action scenes, makes this the animated success of 2009… at least until ‘Up’ opens next month.