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Ebiri: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 Has All the Speedy Action and Wordplay of the First

The indiscriminate hyperactivity of most kids’ movies today usually feels like a problem. The ones that slow things down a little (like Wall-e) or twin their zip with visual or verbal wit (like Monsters Inc. or even Despicable Me) tend to rise to the top. The original Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, based on and enhanced from the beloved children’s story, was fast — fast in action, fast in plot, and fast in wordplay. While it was often all over the place, it worked, because directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller ladled out the chaos with such charm.

That lovable chaos is back in Cloudy 2, and with it all that speed and wordplay. It picks up not long after where the first film left off, with the town of Swallow Falls, devastated by the foodnados and foodalanaches unleashed by our hapless inventor hero Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) in the first film, now in desperate need of cleanup. To the rescue comes Flint’s hero Chester V (Will Forte), part mad scientist and part Steve Jobs–like visionary type, who offers the services of his huge tech company Live Corp. to tidy things up. Meanwhile, Flint goes off to Live Corp.’s headquarters and enters the race to achieve a lifelong dream and join the company’s hive-mind of inventors (called “Thinkonauts”). But before the movie can turn into The Internship, Flint and his pals are called back to their island, which has apparently been overrun by armies of living food monsters, including a giant terrifying cheeseburger with French fry legs and a thousand sesame seed eyes, and a “tacodile supreme,” a huge taco that vomits forth a disgusting torrent of veggie filling when provoked. And now, it appears that these food monsters are learning to swim, and have every intention of taking over the Earth and destroying our great cities and monuments, kaiju-style. Only Flint and his pals can stop them. As somebody says, “It’s going to be deadly dangerous with an extra chance of death.”

The new movie was directed by Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, and they ably keep the food-borne craziness going, rarely letting up the energy or the wit. It’s all very cute and awesomely disgusting, like a 9-year-old stuffing his face full of food and then pressing his cheeks to make it all explode out. (Nine-year-olds still do that, right?) Cameron and Pearn even do a decent job of underplaying some of the film’s more message-y moments, such as when someone remarks, with an annoyed sigh, “Food with legs is much harder to catch. They run away, they fight back, they want to live … ” Aside from a couple of these understated moments, the film stays pretty much on the same level, a mixture of gross-out juvenilia and too-cute-by-half wordplay.

In fact, the extent to which you enjoy Cloudy 2 will likely depend on how much you enjoy these imaginative animal-food hybrids and the puns that invariably come with them. It’s an interesting comic instrument, the pun; the more groan-inducing it is, the better. And boy, has Cloudy 2 got some groaners — everything from “hippotatoes” and “watermelophants” to “shrimpanzees” and “mosquitoasts.” It’s so punny that you want to groan even when the pun in question isn’t really a pun at all (a “bananostrich”?). And if you don’t like puns, you should be forewarned that this is a movie where someone yells, “There’s a leek in the boat!” twice.

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation