Saturday, 12 October 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Man-Child At The Movies (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2)

The original Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is a wacked-out masterpiece. Crazy and colourful, hilarious and hyperactive, heart-warming and heaping with a childlike sense of wonder. When it was first advertised back in 2009, I had no intentions of watching it. At the time, I was still under the impression that all CG cartoons were soulless and unappealing - dull and (shudder) realistic, like every one of the Shrek movies. And truthfully, the trailer (for both films, actually) belied the animated genius within.

I stumbled upon Cloudy one sunny day on Movie Central and ate it up! The character designs were fun and cartoony. The animation was irreverent and detailed. The story had the perfect balance of kid cutesy and adult insanity. So it was based on this sudden set of high standards that I was extremely nervous about engorging upon the sequel, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2. The trailer wasn't great. The original directors, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (who created TV's Clone High and the big screen treatment of 21 Jump Street) only had a story credit this time around. And the title was changed from Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs: Revenge Of The Leftovers to something far less clever. Also the reviews weren't great, which scared me. Anyway, those fears ended up unfounded, as I was happy to discover that Cloudy 2 was just as wack as the original, if not more so.

The sequel starts right where the original left off. Inventor Flint Lockwood (played by former SNL'er Bill Hader) immediately immerses himself in the world of Live Corp., a disturbingly serene and high-tech world overseen by the evil and elasticized inventor Chester V (played by former SNL'er Will Forte), who is very literally branded as such with his light bulb head and upside-down triangle for a goatee.

It's pretty obvious who (or what) the movie is skewering at the start - right to its "core", if you will. Actually, big corporations and cities in general are not safe. But before long, Flint and his friends are headed back to small-town Swallow Falls, which apparently is now a dangerous food jungle created by Flint's not-quite broken FLDSMDFR. (I'm too lazy to type out the acronym in full, so you'll have to watch the first movie for clarification and assume I didn't just have a stroke while typing that)

Critics who faulted the new movie for its lack of story and heart aren't wrong. The filmmakers had no qualms about the spectacle and darker tone they created, comparing the manic set-up to that of Jurassic Park. Chase sequences pile up as new and disturbing Foodimals are cranked out as quick as the FLDSMDFR can birth them. The settings are literally darker and the sense of joy you felt from the first movie is noticeably absent at times.

But what Cloudy 2 lacks in those departments, it makes up for in animation and design, which for me were the true stars of the original. A look into an excellent book called "The Art And Making Of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" will give you an idea of what I mean. Upon looking at the below artwork, you can only dream of what these movies would look like as a hand-drawn feature. Fortunately, the filmmakers give you a hint of that during each film's end credit sequence. The sequel even gives quick samples of puppetry and claymation, if memory serves correctly. You can see where puppetry is a major influence in the design, especially as it relates to Flint's Muppet-like dad below.

As you can see in its roots and the finished product, nothing and no one is made to look realistic. Lots of recent Disney films have cartoony roots (which you can see in art books similar to this one), but they always end up becoming more realistic throughout the development process, almost like they fear alienating the families who feed the box office. Also, somehow the CG process always seems to soften the characters and design through its glossy sheen. At least it does for me.

But not the Cloudy movies. People are rubbery, high-strung, and simplistic in their design to allow for greater range of exaggerated movement. Some of the scenes in Cloudy 2 almost make it look like Chester V's arms are detached and move independently from the rest of his body. You don't see that kind of detail in Disney movies. It's not really brave or cutting edge, but it certainly seems that way in comparison to everything else being released right now.

The voice work is great too. You can tell they aren't just casting celebrities for the sake of casting Nicolas Cage in The Croods. Most of these are comedic voice actors, and those who aren't (James Caan, Benjamin Bratt) are still well cast. Some of the behind-the-scenes guys provide funny Foodimal voices, like the nonsensical "noo"-ing of Barry and those incessantly gargling pickles. (which admittedly is a rip-off of Richard Condie's 'The Apprentice', but still funny)

By the way, the Foodimals are the obvious stars of the show. Dozens of food/animal hybrids (and their related puns) were created for the film, some of which only appear on-screen for a few seconds.

The delicious website Cartoon Brew just posted this great behind-the-scenes video about animating these creatures, which sheds some insight on why they move the way they do. Part of their look was established by building actual physical creatures out of fruit and clay.

For me, both Cloudy movies provide hope for future CG animated cartoons. Fortunately, they're both box office money-makers, which proves that audiences still enjoy when people use their imagination. If we wanted an ultra photo-realistic world, we'd watch a live action movie. Do yourself (and all other cartoon lovers out there) a favour, and show your support for Cloudy 2 in a theatre. Let's show these Hollywood types that our tastes (sticking to a theme here!) are far more discriminating than flavourless gruel like this...

Blech! I just lost my appetite!

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