Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a humorous yet unfocused romp, so unwilling to settle on a single theme that hyperactivity medication should be handed out with the 3-D glasses.
The animated sequel starts as a very clever and slightly sinister deconstruction of Silicon Valley culture, before morphing into a lightweight Jurassic Park parody, then morphing again into a rousing Avatar-style nature-versus-machines battle. (The latter incorporates elements of The Battle for Endor, with monster tacos instead of Ewoks.)
This fear of continuity seems to be a growing trend in animated family films, where talented filmmakers are given great amounts of freedom, then seemingly use every single concept from their brainstorming session for the movie. Despicable Me 2 had a similar vibe, as did the two most recent “Madagascar” films. The result feels like a dormitory food fight — so much fun in the moment, before everyone walks away from the ugly aftermath feeling a little guilty and wondering who’s going to clean up the mess.
Cloudy 2 begins where the first film left off, with the island of Swallow Falls covered in giant foodstuffs, courtesy of inventor Flint Lockwood’s out-of-control cheeseburger replicator. The newly vindicated scientist (voiced again by Bill Hader) is given a choice: to join his friends in a start-up, or head west and become a cog in Live Corp, led by a tech sector icon in the semi-fictitious city of San Fran Jose.
For a very clever half-hour, Sony Pictures Animation nearly succeeds in out- WALL-E-ing Pixar. Live Corp’s leader is the cultlike figure Chester V (the artists make sure he looks nothing like Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison), who outwardly champions innovation while quietly turning great young minds into scared, overcaffeinated drones. This is the Google parody we were never going to get from this summer’s The Internship.
But Chester V (Will Forte) is just a way to get the crew back to Swallow Falls, which is now being overrun by food-animal hybrids, including fearsome Tacodile Supremes, Watermelophants and Shrimpanzees. The criticism of the high-tech hype and responsibility is abandoned, as Chester V becomes a run-of-the-mill villain with robot henchmen and goals of world domination.
It’s worth noting that the jokes are effective no matter where Cloudy 2 travels. Two new directors and writers duplicate the witty irreverence of the original, whether they’re on the West Coast or in the land of Apple Pie-thons. The character design in these films is particularly strong, which rescues some of the more obvious sight gags. “There’s a leek in the boat!” one character screams … cut to a harmless-looking vegetable with eyes, arms and legs.
The climax is notably similar to the last film’s final conflict — a sign that the writers may have just collapsed with exhaustion. Who knows what they have planned for Cloudy 3. (Best guess: a satire of social networking, before borrowing the time-travel plot points from Terminator 2, and ending with a Braveheart-style man-versus-food showdown.)
Just keep it funny, and we’ll mostly forgive the short-attention-span cinema.