In 2009, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller brought Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to the screen. The film told the charming story of Flint Lockwood and how his weather-to-food invention changed his life and the lives of those around him. Using visual, vaudeville-style humor and endearing character development, Lord and Miller were able to bring a soul to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs that elevated it beyond a mediocre 3D effects fest. It is a great little movie and worth a watch to anyone out there who hasn’t seen it (and still has enough of a child’s wonder left to appreciate food falling from the sky). Fast-forward to 2013 when Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs returned to the screen. The aptly named Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2. It is a sad realization to understand that Hollywood’s response to anything successful is this: make more until it isn’t. Sequels are just an inevitability these days. As audiences, we can only hope that they’re good. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2… is not such a sequel.
Wait, what went wrong? It is such a dynamite concept! I mean, food falling from the sky – that’s at least eight films right there…
Yeah, for anyone who hasn’t seen the first film, I will just say that it ends without the feeling that there is something more to tell. Certain movies, like Back to the Future and the Incredibles, close with a tease: the promise of more exciting adventures to come. Flint Lockwood’s story was done at the end of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. He had grown up, realized that he didn’t need to prove himself to everyone when the people who mattered already supported him. The weather-to-food machine (yes, I’m aware it has a more creative name) is destroyed and life returns to normal. There and back again: adventure complete.
That is not to say that all sequels to complete stories are bad. Look at the Toy Story trilogy: each one of those is a complete adventure on its own. Yes, they use the same characters but there is no overarching plot. It is just three separate toy stories that work really well together. So Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 was not dead in the water. It even gained a fun life in its new idea: a Jules Verne-style island of living food. Sort of a next mutation phase to Flint’s invention.
Where Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 falls off is its continuing character development. Here in lies one of the greatest pitfalls for sequels. You can always tell if a sequel is driven by writing or by marketing. For instance, in a sequel driven by writing (Toy Story 2), not every character returns from the first movie. There is no desire to create a “hey, do you remember how cool this was last time?” moment, since the story has enough to tell on its own. In a sequel driven by marketing, everyone comes back regardless if they have anything to contribute to the current story. Case in point:
Brent was a character who had a purpose in the first movie: he was the guy Flint Lockwood wanted to be. He was popular and people liked him. The first film was also clever enough to showcase the failings of Brent’s type of “popularity” (no one really cares about him as a person, just about one thing he did) and use it to teach Flint what true acceptance was. In the sequel… he’s just there. Really, there isn’t anything that he does that is vital to the plot. I love Andy Samberg but… yeah could have done without him.
The real failing though is with Flint Lockwood. Like I said, his journey in the first film was one of acceptance. He felt like he had to prove himself and didn’t realize that he was already cared for. There was an evil mentor figure (the Mayor, voiced by Bruce Campbell) who led Flint along: pushed him to do more than he was comfortable with, to betray his own instincts just to satisfy others. Luckily by the end of the movie, Flint knows better. He is not looking for acceptance from the wrong places anymore and knows that there is more to life than pleasing everyone. Well, good thing that’s over and done with… right?
Wrong. The sequel re-does that same character growth. The new villain, Chester V (voiced by Will Forte) is essentially the Mayor from the first movie. Wait, no: he’s Flint Lockwood’s childhood inspiration… wait, I thought that was his mom? No matter, rather than evolve Flint – the film regresses him back to a place of insecurity that is well, boring. We already saw that movie.
This writing decision prevents any of the other characters from growing as well and basically keeps the movie in an unnatural holding pattern that exists solely to move the plot along. There was potential here as Chester V comes off in the vein of Steve Jobs. A more clever film would have examined the idea of selling scientific advancement for profit vs. knowledge for the good of all mankind. Sadly, this is what we got.
So if you haven’t seen the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, do yourself a favor and give it a watch. If you have, liked it, and want to see more: watch the original again. The sequel is just the same story… that, like a joke, isn’t as great the second time that you hear it.