'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs' makes near-perfect storm
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; 12:00 AM
With the holiday season behind us and nothing but a seemingly endless parade of finger-numbing, freezing days ahead, many of us already are desperate for ammunition in the annual fight against the winter doldrums.
Enter, thankfully, "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," the relentlessly delightful animated film that brings a much-needed burst of gleeful, spaghetti-storming whimsy today to DVD ($28.96 single-disc edition, $34.95 two-disc edition) and Blu-ray ($39.95 for Blu-ray/DVD combo pack). Released in theaters last year, a period that overflowed with wonderfully inventive animated fare from "Coraline" to "Up" to "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Cloudy" dazzles from a technical perspective -- everything from the film's ice cream-swirl snow drifts to the pasta-and-meatballs twister look almost Weather-Channel real -- as well as from a good old-fashioned narrative one.
Based loosely on the 1978 children's book by Judi and Ron Barret, the story depicts the wondrous delights (and inevitable disaster) that come to the island of Swallow Falls when wannabe inventor Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader) creates a machine that lets it rain an array of taste sensations -- Pancakes! Cheeseburgers! Donuts ... with sprinkles! -- upon the ever-hungry populace. Of course, obesity, corporate exploitation and Armageddon-style chaos naturally ensue, making "Cloudy" a tale both culinary and cautionary, but one that never sinks to preachiness. The movie plays to its strengths, and those strengths, happily, often involve the sight of pizza slices falling from the sky.
Fortunately, the two-disc DVD and the Blu-ray editions also make a point of celebrating all that food-flurrying fun. Both versions come with Flint's Food Fight Game, a diversion that's sort of a cross between Asteroids and Space Invaders, with pieces of pie and burgers subbing in for the encroaching aliens. A series of progression reels smartly and succinctly allow visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow to demonstrate the layers of artwork and computer trickery involved in making the movie's buffet-producing storm clouds look convincing. And exclusively on the Blu-ray, fans will find the totally unnecessary but nonetheless addictive "splat mode," a feature that allows viewers to hit a button and sling animated eggs, cupcakes, meatballs and pie all over the screen, then clear the mess with a virtual squeegee and start all over again. Finally, a way to let your six-year-old unleash all his messy energy without needing to whip out the Swiffer when he's finished.
Not all of the "Cloudy" extras are hits, however. The misses include a pair of by-the-numbers making-of featurettes, largely skippable deleted scenes and a bait-and-switch piece with the enticing title "Make It Rain Food!" that turns out to be nothing more than a well-intentioned PSA for the Feeding America charity.
As for the less expensive, single-disc DVD, it boasts only that PSA and the reasonably engaging commentary track with directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, as well as Hader. Not a bad option if you're trying to pinch pennies. But if you're not, and you've gone high-def, consider succumbing to the temptation to wallow in splat mode.