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Movie review: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2' cooks up crazy fun

Animation (Movie Genre)MoviesJohn Francis DaleyTerry CrewsNeil Patrick Harris

I have no idea what effect foodimals will have on the ecosystem, and I do worry. But the 3-D animated movie mash-up that creates such exotic species as taco-diles, shrim-panzees, banan-ostriches and, my favorite, fla-mangoes makes for some pretty delicious family fun in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2."

There are definitely fewer carbs this time around. Whether charges of insensitivity to childhood obesity issues hurled at the first film are the reason, "Cloudy 2" is overwhelmingly fruit- and veggie-centric. And honestly, anyone who can pull off a running joke about leeks that does not make you gag, and is in fact a silly delight, deserves props.

That team involves prolific voice actor Cody Cameron and animator Kris Pearn, plucked from the trenches of "Cloudy" and plopped into co-directors' chairs for "2" — sharing nicely, I'm sure, since the sequel's all about getting along. Further extending the weird science first popularized by Judi and Ron Barrett's children's book, the screenplay is by Erica Rivinoja, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.

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When last we left the Atlantic island of Swallow Falls, aspiring inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) was destroying his greatest achievement, the Diatomic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator, to save the world from a devastating spaghetti and meatball storm.

"Cloudy 2" picks up with the island's evacuation for cleanup. Its good citizens relocate to the big city of San Franjose — Silicon Valley with a few hills. It's a place of high-tech glass towers and neutral-toned minimalism controlled by a single conglomerate, Live Corp. The company is in the business of the "betterment of mankind," so you know right away its eccentric owner, Chester V (Will Forte), is up to no good. Ever by his side is new assistant Barb (Kristen Schaal), an orangutan outfitted with a human brain and fighting for a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t. It's an issue.

In Flint's camp, in case you need reminding, is Anna Faris' TV weathercaster Sam Sparks, still swooning over Flint. Manny's behind the camera, and Benjamin Bratt's behind him. James Caan is Flint's outdoorsy dad, completely tapped into his sensitive side now and hoping to bond with his boy over manly things. In the long minute or so that separates the two films' time frame, Andy Samberg's Brent has become a mogul; his Chick-N-Sushi joints are a hit. Earl (Terry Crews), Swallow Falls cop, has turned in his badge and turned foodie. And Neil Patrick Harris' scamp, Steve the Monkey, is more essential and up to even more mischief.

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Though the movie will go into great detail, all you need to know is that Chester V's designs on world domination involve getting his hands on Flint's food replicating machine. You didn't really think it was destroyed, did you?

It hasn't merely survived, it's gone mad — churning out mountains, and rivers, and swamps, and jungles, and deserts overrun with 39 different varieties of misbegotten new species.

The animation and 3-D effects of this hybrid world are simply stunning, and a much-needed jolt after San Franjose and Live Corp.'s uniformity. The color is scrumptious and the human characters, with their expressive Pinocchio-esque eyes, are enchanting. But it is the inventive design of the many creatures that feels so fresh. The detail is so rich, and so dense, that you wish some of the frames would freeze so you had more time for savoring.

They are an eclectic bunch of interlopers. But the best — as always — are the more organic mash-ups like those fla-mangoes, where the fruit fits the shape of the bird quite nicely. The completely zany creations, like the cheeseburger bully that scurries around on spider legs made of French fries, are more of a stretch. And that screaming, lettuce-spitting taco-dile is slightly scary.

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But even if Flint can find and stop his machine, what is to be done with this bounty of new breeds?

It's a pickle.

Because like the tribe of briny bruisers that roam the land, foodimals are sweet once you get to know them. Conflict is definitely on the menu as it should be. It's the sides that drag things down. There are more secondary story lines than marshmallow fellows, who replicate at rabbit speed.

It's all very murky what might happen if the machine fell into the wrong hands (those would be Chester V's). More worrisome is the way even bigger questions are completely ignored. Like what happens when food becomes our friend — literally. What do we eat? What do they eat? No clue.

But perhaps the only question that matters is whether parents will care if the plot is undercooked as long as their little munchkins are giggling. I think we can hazard a guess on that one.

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com | Google+

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'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2'

MPAA rating: PG for mild rude humor

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: In general release

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Animation (Movie Genre)MoviesJohn Francis DaleyTerry CrewsNeil Patrick Harris
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