Thursday, 28 January 2010
(Part of Animation Month)
Recent works by Pixar and Dreamworks are credited with revitalising family entertainment. The consensus is that they provide something for Mum and Dad and something for the kids. In my experience, though, parents and children are watching parallel films. Gentle innuendo and hip cinematic in-jokes fly over the children's heads and pander only to the childish, and not the childlike, in adults.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the first film by Sony Pictures Animation, welcomes all on the same terms, pitched perfectly to challenge children to rise to its wit and tempt their parents to wallow in old-fashioned 'what do you want in your sandwiches', 'pack your pyjamas' adventure. This is Fantastic Voyage, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Hansel and Gretel rolled into one. Most importantly we feel like we've been somewhere. We've been on a journey. It is clever, funny and fun and a shared family experience in more than just name.
It has its drawbacks, however. The film tends to follow the path of least dramatic resistance in its story threads of approval, acceptance and love. Things are followed through right to the limits of the logical, conventional conclusion. All are redeemed and reunited and a charming friendship can only turn to love. It is not only that we know what will happen but that it is ladeled on too thick; albeit if you're surrounded by hills of ice cream it's hard to begrudge a little sugary sweetness.
These are issues that I have long had, and more entrenched, with Pixar. Part of it comes down to a patronising anti-intellectual attitude to an audience that needs to be beaten over the head with mawkishly sound-tracked lessons. Part of it comes down to the computer animation itself. The characters' hard plastic faces necessitate broad emotional strokes with subtlety an inevitable casualty.
Nevertheless these qualms can be no more than nitpicks in the case of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, to be soon buried under a mound of spaghetti bolognese. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a mouthful of gob-stoppers, a boxful of custard doughnuts, a big bright bananas shower of jelly babies.
This isn't A Grand Day Out where Wallace and Gromit want just a sliver cheese for their tea. This is out and out chaos and mighty appetising it is too despite the hints (and thankfully these hints never develop into anything more) at the dangers of greed. It is a vividly imagined foodscape, full of the details that betray a work conceived with love.* From time to time it may have been better served exercising a little moderation but when you're surrounded with all you can eat it's hard not to stuff your face.
*To be sure this is a film full of ideas big and small but I would like to have seen something about the world-changing nature of this water-into-food invention. Maybe, given Flint's heroes on his bedroom wall, it would have been apt to have a little less me me me crazy inventor and a little more of that idealistic man of science.