Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)


If you grew up in the 80's, you probably remember the classic book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. The book was apocalypticism for kids, dealing with the fascinating and frightening theme of food falling from the sky - fascinating because it would be wonderful if our food just fell on our plates right out of the air, frightening because it shows us what this would look like if there were a food storm, complete with spaghetti tornadoes and pancakes that could flatten houses. In the book, the inhabitants of the quaint town of Chewandswallow eventually have to abandon their island when the portions that fall from the sky become too huge to be manageable.

I was not sure how well 2009's movie adaptation of the same name (rated PG) would live up to the book, but I was pleasantly surprised. The film Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs retains the key elements of the book (food falling from the sky in ever bigger quantities leading to an evacuation of the island), but introduces several characters and plot devices to turn it into a real narrative - and a decent narrative it is!

The story follows the fortunes of would-be inventor Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader of Saturday Night Live), who after a string of flops, invents something truly useful - a machine that can convert water into food. This machine inadvertently gets launched into the atmosphere over his town, which causes it to rain food over his town. The people of Chewandswallow live the new weather, and as they become accustomed to getting food from the sky, they become greedier for ever larger and tastier delicacies, leading the invention to overload and start raining down mammoth sized portions that threaten to destroy the town. Flint, with his sidekick Steve the Monkey and reporter Sam Sparks, must shut down the invention before it can destroy everything.

The only thing I have against this film is its generic plot of a misunderstood child fighting against pressures to conform to society's expectations, as exemplified by the tough relationship with parents. Flint is misunderstood by his father, who wants him to settle down to quiet life as a salesmen in the family bait and tackle shop, but Flint dreams of being an inventor and forging his own path. Yawn. In this aspect, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is in the same well-worn track of films like How to Train Your Dragon, Kung-Fu Panda, Brave, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, A Bug's Life, Meet the Robinson's, Happy Feet, Tale of Despereaux, et cetera, et cetera. It seems like modern animated films really like the theme of angst-ridden teens striving against their parents. Maybe this is indicative of western civilization itself struggling against its own tradition.

But I digress. Anyhow, so yes, at its core, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is about a son and a father with a rocky relationship. But while it is cliche, it is not a weakness. In fact, this is one movie where it really seems to work. Another positive thing is how funny the film is. There is some low-brow humor, but nothing adult-oriented. A supporting actor voiced by Mr. T provides some very creative and enjoyable comic relief, and I found myself laughing out loud several times throughout the film. Steve the Monkey and a character called Baby Brent also provide decent and (relatively) clean comedy.

The story really demonstrates the vice of gluttony, something today's world needs to hear. The people of the town become downright gluttonous in their love of the food-from-heaven, personified by the overweight, gluttonous mayor who completely lacks self-control. Moderation and temperance are implicitly extolled through the film's condemnation of excess. Moderation is represented by Flint's father Tim (voiced by James Caan), who alone among the island's inhabitants thinks food falling from the sky "might be bad for people."

Couple the comedy and the good moral message with stunning visuals (a castle made out of jello, and a spectacular climax set in a food fortress in the sky) and the result is a film that is very enjoyable for everyone. I give Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs three tiaras:

 

Review by Boniface