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Special Sauce

With its roofs made of pancakes and forts made of Jell-O, here’s an adaptation of a children’s book that will appeal to both kids and adults

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If you’re worried because the highly stylized animation of the new big-screen 3D adaptation of the beloved children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs doesn’t look much like the lovely pencil sketches of the 1978 book ... don’t be. The movie, written and directed by feature newcomers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, looks very different. But it feels just the same in the all the important ways, and the most ingenious imagery of the book — the elementary school covered in a giant pancake, the Jell-O Fortress of Solitude — has been lovingly transferred to the film in a way that honors the book while also making what sense giant pancakes and Fortresses of Solitude of Jell-O can.

Lord and Miller treat the charming nonsense of food falling from the sky like weather with exactly the sort of buoyant nimbleness it deserves. They’ve expanded on the notion of a town called Chewandswallow where there are no supermarkets and the restaurants have no roofs by bringing in the enchantingly goofy — and only slightly insane — scientist Flint Lockwood (the voice of Bill Hader), whose inventions always go more than a little awry.

There was tender wit in the book; the wit here is sharp and wicked clever, far more so than we expect even from today’s animated children’s movies that often end up appealing even more to adults. Lord and Miller dish up lashings of cunning wordplay that whips by so fast that you’re wishing for seconds. And they added some prickly social commentary as well — without, wondrously, weighing the movie down. This includes a mini-cautionary tale about a lack of moderation (as in the town’s mayor, voiced by the always fantastic Bruce Campbell, who gorges himself on all the free delicious food). There’s also a warning about the perils of attempting to be something other than you are (as with weather girl Sam Sparks — the voice of Anna Faris — who tries to hide her essential, adorable smart-girl nerdhood in favor of weather-girl Barbie-ness).

There’s real magic is in the film’s animation, too: It’s a bit Rankin & Bass, a bit Atari videogames. It isn’t quite like anything we’ve seen before on film, bursting with personality and style all its own.

Wild and subversive and endlessly fun to look at, this is as good as animated movies get. And even better than adaptations of books generally get. Mangia.

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