Outside of Disney and Pixar, which studio is quietly releasing the most interesting animated films in Hollywood? If you take the wonderful Coraline as a one-off, and accept Aardman as richly British, the answer to the question isn’t going to take you anywhere near DreamWorks. Instead, you end up, of all places, at Sony’s front door. The same Sony who released the cynically sweet Open Season and its direct to DVD sequel. The same Sony that has been to animation what Celine Dion has been to classic closing numbers for films.
And yet, cast your mind back a few years to Monster House. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a very ambitious, and at times, wonderfully sinister piece of work. And this year we had a real treat in the shape of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. It’s a film that wins friends from the off with a title card that decrees the film is the work of a lot of people, but it doesn’t rest there.
Cloudy eschews big star names for its voice cast, instead – in the immortal words of The Player – hunting down “just talent”. And what talent: Mr T, Bruce Campbell, Neil Patrick Harris, James Caan, Bill Hader and Role Models‘ Bobb’e J Thompson add expression to their work, and not one of them gives the impression that they weren’t having any less than a lot of fun.
Not as much as the animators, though. If you accept that the story – about a young inventor who, basically, manages to make food rain down from the skies, with all the long term consequences that ultimately brings – is a slight one (and, in fact, too slight to properly spread across an hour and a half, arguably the film’s biggest weakness), then you’re left to focus on the brilliant, brilliant visuals. For here’s a computer animated film where it makes sense, for the sake of the story, to bring out the computers and the effects. It’s not CG for the sake of being CG. It’s CG because that best fits the project.
The screen at times bursts with an explosion of colour and ideas that’s as hard to resist as the on-screen menu of food (and while the film won’t make you as hungry as watching Stanley Tucci’s Big Night, it’s not going to put you off a meal afterwards in a hurry). And while Cloudy doesn’t spring too many surprises, it does manage to tell a good story exceptionally well, with real care and attention to detail. Best of all? It’s really, really good fun too.
The Blu-ray, as you’d hope, looks brilliant, too. Animated films as striking as this are always going to have a better chance in high definition, and Cloudy looks stunning. It’s not quite at the level of Pixar presentation, but it’s still a superb workout for a good home cinema rig, backed by a meaty, impressive surround sound track.
The extras aren’t so good: a commentary from Bill Hader and the film’s directors is diverting, but far from essential, while the ‘making of’ is press kit fodder. You’re then left with a daft game, some added footage and a music video. It’s not a bad collection, but hardly essential.
The film is, though. It’s not flat-out classic animation, but in a year of animated heavyweights, 2009 saw Cloudy rise about the likes of 9, Monsters Vs Aliens and Bolt to become one of the most welcome surprises of the year. A warmly recommended Blu-ray…
The Film:The Disc:
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.