The Herculean task of any sequel is repeating the experience of the original film, or improving on it. That's nigh on impossible due to the simple fact that you only get to take the viewing public utterly by surprise once.
The out-of-nowhere novelty and delight of Sony Animation's "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," based on Judi and Ron Barrett's children's book, is missing in "Meatballs 2." The design and color palette is as glorious as ever. But the laughs are few and innovations fewer in this generally winded knock-off.
Inventor Flint Lockwood's cuisine-creating weather machine has come to the attention of his idol, corporate scientist and TV science show host Chester V ( Will Forte), who worries that the island of Swallow Falls is too dangerous to live on -- for now. The gadget is producing food animals -- predators, "Taco-diles" and Cheese(burger) Spiders, Su-sheep and Shrimpanzees and Fla-mangoes.
So Chester convinces the town to evacuate and Flint ( Bill Hader) to join Chester V's "Think-quanauts," scientists who work in Chester V's invention factory. Eventually, Flint is commissioned to go back and turn off his errant weather-food machine, and his pals Sam Sparks the meteorologist ( Anna Faris), her camera operator / scientist Manny ( Benjamin Bratt), former baby model Brent ( Andy Samberg), hyper-active cop Earl ( Terry Crews, replacing Mr. T.) and Flint's sardine-fisherman dad ( James Caan, replacing James Gandolfini) venture back there to brave "an eco-system of living food." Swallow Falls is a Jurassic Park of Bananostriches, Water Mellaphants and the like.
Hats off to production designer Justin Thompson and art director David Bleich, who conjure up a scary Tacodile Supreme and a syrup bog of slow-motion chases through the sticky stuff, where the dead swamp trees are actually strips of bacon.
The script is another collection of food puns -- "Oh no! We're toast! FRENCH toast!"
"There's a LEEK in the boat!" (cut to screaming onion-like vegetable).
The moral lessons, about science making the world a better place (or creating mayhem) and accepting that your children will not always emulate you or live up to your expectations, are muddier. There's a villain rather than a runaway technology to battle here. And the villain is bland as oatmeal without the raisins.
It's all more cynical than silly, the sort of movie you get when the corporate desire for a sequel precedes the creative team's great idea for a sequel. Which, in this case, they didn't have.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2
Cast: Voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Benjamin Bratt.
Directed by Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, scripted by Erica Rivinoja. A Sony Animation release.
Running time: 1:33
MPAA rating: PG for mild rude humor
Photo/Video credit: Sony Pictures Animation, Inc.