‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” was a nice surprise a few years ago, frenetically expanding on its quaint picture-book source without getting obnoxious. Characters likably struggled to connect, and spaghetti twisters and other visuals lived up to that colorful title. So now we get a 3-D animated sequel, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.” It’s another brightly rendered effort, but, as the title indicates, a lot of the real creativity seems to have been used up the first time around.
When last we saw misfit inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader), he’d saved the day by finding a way to shut down his out-of-control food-raining machine with help from weathergirl crush Sam (Anna Faris) and his bonding-challenged dad (James Caan). Cut to eight minutes later, as the follow-up quips, and a Steve Jobs/Mister Wizard composite named Chester V (Will Forte). Flint has worshipped this namaste-spouting tech guru since childhood, so it’s a dream offer when Chester invites the whole gang back to “Thinquanauts” HQ while their giant food spill is mopped up. Chester’s secret motive: to grab that still-active gastronomic invention, now busily churning out zoomorphic hybrids — “foodimals” — that have overrun Flint’s island.
Flint and friends head back there, of course, dropped into a jungle setting that echoes “Jurassic Park,” with majestic shots of grazing scallion-brontos, close calls with a spidery cheeseburger, and “awww”-inspiring looks at a cutesy strawberry. Nicely designed, but shades of the exotica in “The Croods.” And “The Lorax.” And the Candyland riff in “Wreck-It Ralph.” And, funny coincidence, just as the “Jurassic” franchise has insisted on sending characters back to danger isle without any compelling reason, it’s the same here. Some contrived conflict between Flint and his loved ones doesn’t help recapture the first installment’s narrative ease, either.
Sure, there are sly touches, jokes about a naughty monkey’s “brown crayon,” say, or an opening credit reading, “Another Film by a Lot of People.” Amusing – but it makes us wonder how the bunch of them couldn’t produce something fresher.