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 fact that you get to take the viewing public by surprise only once.
The out-of-nowhere novelty and delight of Sony Animation's 2009 film 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 are as glorious as ever. But the laughs are few and innovations fewer.
Inventor Flint Lockwood's (Bill Hader) 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: tacodiles and cheese(burger) spiders, su-sheep, shrimpanzees and flamangoes.
So Chester convinces the town to evacuate and Flint 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."
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 onionlike 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. 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'
PG for mild rude humor. Sony Animation. 1:33. 2D: Frankfort, Harrodsburg Twin Hills, Winchester. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill.