Where's the beef?
Having become an extremely late convert to the church of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I cannot pretend to have approached the thoughtlessly-titled Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 with a sense of dread or anticipation; except in that, being a fan of clever animation, I am always hopeful that new animated features will be could, and deeply suspicious they will not be (it is my suspicion that is rewarded, far more often than my hope).
Still, you don't need to be fan of the original, or even to have seen it, to figure out immediately that whatever else is true of Cloudy 2, the word "clever" is not going to be a necessary component of the reviewer's toolkit in this case. The plot is a retread of no less an august forebear than The Lost World: Jurassic Park, right down to the argument that we must leave these beautiful animals alone and let nature take its course, despite the animals being genetic freaks who've rendered the local ecosystem entirely unrecognisable.
Opening not even seconds, but mere frames after the end of the first movie, we now pick up with awkwardly innocent inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) in a romantic clinch with the science geek meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), in the detritus of their old hometown Swallow Falls, rendered a wasteland by Flint's food-generating machine. No sooner have they and their friends and fellow heroes worked up a plan to build a new science lab for the enrichment of humanity than a visitor comes: celebrity scientist Chester V (Will Forte), or at least a holographic representation of the same, offering Flint the culmination of his lifelong dream, to work in the unbelievable high-tech laboratories of the great thinker in San Franjose, California, where the population of Swallow Falls is to be relocated for the period of their hometown's clean-up.
As is so obvious that the film doesn't even bother hiding it for more than a scene, Chester V is, of course, a villain, hoping to use Flint's defunct food generator for his own needs. However, the mutant food has developed sapience, and evolved into animal forms, and now the island is overrun by all sorts of fantastic, and deadly creatures. Several extraction teams are destroyed before Chester V elects to send the most disposable of all his employees, and the one man with the greatest working knowledge of the island: Flint himself, though when Flint's friends tag along, this presents enough of a threat to the madman's plot that he ends up traveling to the island himself.
We can play the "compare the first film and its sequel" game all day long - especially since I saw them both in barely a 12-hour span - but you don't need to point out that Cloudy 2 is a feeble echo of Cloudy 1 to start ticking off the ways that it's a pretty generic animated film; Chester V is an especially notable example, with the "professional idol proves to be a villainous jackass" twist making no less than its third appearance of 2013 (four if you count Monsters University, where Mike Wazowski is let down, not by his professional idol, but by his chosen profession itself*), but the whole thing feels so endlessly typical: the side characters are all one-note comic figures (this is an especially depressing devolution for the character of Sam, one of the most unique elements of the first movie), the hero's character arc is so rigid you could set your watch to it, and something like half of the jokes in the entire are forced puns on the names of the food-animal beings, like "Tacodile" or "Watermelephant", or "Hipotatomus", the last of which is not actually said out loud, but simply seen in passing. Yes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 has so many damn food puns that it can't even fit all of them in.
The manic comedy performed without a net that made the first movie such a joy is nowhere in evidence: new directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, alongside new writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, are playing a much safer game in this entry of the series, and the results are hard to describe as anything other than "passable". Let's get that part clear right now: Cloudy 2 isn't a bad movie. It's merely a very, very lazy one, content to coast entirely on the affection its audience is presumed to have for the first movie, and its characters, despite breaking the things that made the original good in the first place: the contrast between the sedate small town location and the giddy humor, the interplay of the characters and their spouting of funny non sequiturs, and the cleanness of its plot. Food animals isn't a bad concept for a scene, but it's not quite as managable as anything the first movie had, and the presence of a generic bad guy in Chester V - something the original mostly lacked, to its great credit - pulls too much focus from the bantering and the B-list characters, while making Flint himself an awfully generic hero.
Just about the only thing the film gets right is the visual style, which still, four years later, feels like nothing else that any major American animation studio is interesting in approaching: the physics aren't quite as madcap, but it's still stylised in ways that nice animators wouldn't think of, and Chester V boasts some absolutely terrific rubber hose animation, something almost totally unknown in this modern CGI era. That being said, the mere fact of fun style is no longer fresh, particularly when the movie tries to get by on nothing else: not wit, not likeable characters, not high-pitched energy. The big and maybe even only sin of the movie is that it is boring; and boring, I can certainly say, is the one thing that a sequel to the feverish original should absolutely have avoided being at all costs. It's just another cookie-cutter animated movie, and we've had so damn many of those lately.