Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 ★★★

Although not quite as imaginative or memorable as the first Cloudy film, there’s a still a great deal of laughs to be had here. The voice work and animation is of equal calibre to the first film, with the same acting and animating talent proving the ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it model. But the story is weaker and less imaginative on the whole, almost certainly due to ownership of the film’s vision shifting away from Chris Miller and Phil Lord. For the most part it all still works, but on a different wavelength from the first film.

What we’re left with is a niche style of animated film that I find difficult to write about, where there’s a far greater reliance on in-the-moment (and often non-stop) laughs than compelling plot arcs. Films like this don’t follow the Pixar story-first approach that makes for a far more rewarding narrative, but that isn’t something necessarily that diminishes it - in fact, I loved the first film because it had a good balance of these traits alongside a narrative that was endearing. That first film felt just as fast-paced as this instalment, but it somehow still breathed. I can’t quite put my finger on why this film doesn’t resonate in the same way, but I will point my sights at the target of emotional integrity and probably won't be too far off the mark. Gone is the brave Flint Lockwood who, although a reluctant hero, embraces his responsibilities – he's replaced by a Flint who is constantly questioning his relationships and motivations. It’s Sam Sparks (who’s now somehow a blonde) who is actually the hero of the story, but aside from her, the rest of the returning cast feel like under-utilized tag-alongs rather than necessary presences in a slogging plot.

But that’s not the only problem. This sequel is so visually dense that everything feels like it is fighting for our attention at once, which doesn’t help the film stay focussed. It does keep the laughs coming, with plenty of opportunity for background and sight gags during the slower moments, but that approach also has the negative effect of creating monotony in its information overload - if everything’s a joke, the impact of a good joke gets lost. But even that’s a tough argument to make, when some of those laughs actually save a plethora of otherwise boring scenes.

All of this boils down to a film that is quite strong in some areas - music, animation, visuals, gags and voice acting - but cripplingly weak in the areas that would make this film truly special - story, character development and heart.