Theatrical Review: CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS
Writers: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Cast: Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Bruce Campbell
Studio: Columbia Pictures
On my way to see CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, the day seemed perfect for watching a movie about food falling from the sky because the Dallas/Fort Worth area was being treated to some rare summer showers, which definitely felt like a meteorological anomaly. Then, upon arriving at the movie theater, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I’d be watching the movie in an auditorium full of families. Usually I don’t want crying babies in the same theater as me, but what a better way to gauge the effectiveness of an animated movie than to see it with its two inevitable audiences: kids and the adults they drag along.
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS is based on a children’s book of the same title, in which a grandfather tells his grandkids a bedtime story about Chewandswallow, a town where food inexplicably rains down for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The movie, however, takes a slightly different approach by giving a scientific explanation to rain-food’s origins.
The film ditches the kids and the grandpa, and instead focuses on Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), a young man who, despite his father’s objections, dreams of becoming a great inventor. Unfortunately, his creations have not been successful, though they are used to great comedic effect effect in the movie, such as his pet monkey, Steve, who says hilarious things with the aid of a translator invented by Flint (but the Summer's Best Talking Animal Award still goes to UP). His big break comes when his machine to turn water into food goes haywire and is shot into the atmosphere, where it begins to turn rain into delicious dishes. The ensuing burger-storm catches the attention of intern-turned-weathergirl, Sam Sparks (Anna Farris), who Flint falls in love with, and Mayor Shelbourne (Bruce Campbell), who wants to use Flint’s machine to increase tourism in the town. Flint finally wins the acceptance of everyone in the town (except his father), until the food starts to mutate to dangerous proportions.
There are certain adjustments you have to make when adapting a 30-page book into a feature film, and these changes have consequences. For this movie, writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller added Flint Lockwood and his crazy inventions to the mix, offering them plenty of material to write about, but forfeiting the childlike wonder of book. Giving the food a reason for existing is the equivalent of adding midichlorians to explain the Force. An even bigger consequence, though, of removing the tall tale from the imagination of the book’s grandfather and placing it in the real world is that it allows for criticism of the movie’s logic, which kids might not notice, but as an adult, I did. Of the movie's flaws, there were two things that bothered me most.
First, what happens to the food that is not eaten? The movie has a simple explanation: it's thrown by catapult to the so-called Mount Leftovers, which is essentially a huge landfill of food. I don’t know about you, but I hate taking out the garbage at my house because of the smell, and if one bag of week-old food is enough for me to hold my nose, I can’t even imagine a whole mountain of it! The food on Mount Leftovers, though, doesn’t smell. It doesn’t even rot. I would imagine that such bacteria-resistant food would also have a hard time breaking down in our stomachs, but CLOGGED WITH A CHANCE OF DRANO is certainly not a title that would have appealed to many people.
Second, the characters are idiots, which I found amusing at first, but it quickly got on my nerves. Yes, Flint Lockwood is a scientist who creates pretty amazing stuff, so you can argue that he's intelligent, but he doesn’t use his food-making machine for its most obvious use. If tomorrow scientists announced, “we’ve created a way to make food out of thin air,” wouldn’t your first thought be, “wow, there goes world hunger"?But no one, not Flint, the town, or anyone in the rest of the world of the movie, brings this up. The only person who sees the potential of the machine is the mayor, and although he uses the machine for his own personal gain, at least he uses it for something.
These are small complaints but they ruined the movie for me, and although most kids won’t notice, they deserve smarter storytelling. The true heart of the movie lies in the relationship of Flint and his father. Sadly, between the film's many one-liners and Flint trying hook up with Sam Sparks, that relationship is condensed to a few short scenes. This is a shame because the most creative, funny, and genuinely sweet moment in the film was a scene between Flint and his dad. Unfortunately, it took the movie ninety minutes to get there and by then the credits were rolling.