This past Wednesday, Sony Pictures Animation spent the entire day tweeting about the remembrance of their 2009 animated family film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. While it’s no Pixar movie, fans still remember the film fondly for its story of a kid who grows up desiring to become a genius inventor like Nikola Tesla or Albert Einstein. Fans of Cloudy posted fan art and sentimental tweets from directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord gave context about behind the scene production. A lot of Lord and Miller’s tweets focused on scenes that didn’t make it into the film or original character concept art before they reached their final design.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was based on the illustrated children’s book of the same name by Judi Barrett. In the film, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) is an aspiring inventor who comes up with an idea to build a machine that will convert water into food, thus saving the residents of Swallow Falls from a lifetime of eating sardines. This is great and all except Flint has a long history of making failed inventions. Neither his dad nor the townsfolk have any faith in his work. So it comes as a surprise when food rains from the sky after an accident skyrockets his machine, the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator (or FLDSMDFR for short), into the clouds.
Of course, this miracle doesn’t remain a blessing for long. Too many orders of various food choices send the machine into a frenzy, forcing Flint and an equally nerdy weather girl named Sam Sparks (voiced by Anna Faris) to save the day. The result is a slapstick comedy with way too much food and characters whose ambitions exceed their abilities.
While there are similarities between the book and the film, there are even more distinctions. The Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs book focuses on a family consisting of a sister, brother, their mom, and their grandfather. The sister acts as the narrator as she recites the story told to her and her brother by their grandpa.There isn’t really a hero in this story nor a villain. In fact, Flint Lockwood and his food replicating machine are all inventions of directors Lord and Miller.
The book was a favorite of both directors and you can tell they had fun putting their creative spin on it. According to Miller, the making of the film “was a great experience because of 400 filmmakers who brought passion, humor, and new ideas into every shot.” It’s no wonder the movie was so different.
Besides the inclusion of a hero character and whacky invention, one of the major differences of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is that, in the book, Chewandswallow is a magical town. Its skies didn’t require an invention to convert water into food. No explanation is given for how this came to be, though magic in children’s books rarely needs an explanation. In the movie, the town is called Swallow Falls and only becomes Chewandswallow after Flint’s invention produces results.
Flint is the driving force. In spite of his disasters in the past, he is a very ambitious inventor. Hanging on to his mother’s words that the world needs his originality and that he’ll do big things one day, he perseveres in spite of his failures. Years later, after his mother passes away, Flint only has his dad, Tim Lockwood (voiced by James Caan) to stand behind him and be his support. However, Tim is a fisherman and would rather Flint help in his store, Tim’s Sardine Bait and Tackle. Tim tries to be supportive, but can only come up with fishing metaphors that Flint doesn’t quite understand.
In the wake of his machine’s success, the town mayor, Shelbourne (Bruce Campbell), latches onto Flint the way he did with ‘Baby’ Brent (Andy Samberg), who was popularized through a sardine commercial he did as a baby. Shelbourne coerces Flint to pursue this “gift” in hopes of achieving greatness for himself and the town. The mayor’s ambition is matched only by his literal gluttony, eating more than his share of sky food.
Driven by the thought of gaining recognition for his invention, Flint creates different foods for the town. The more food combinations he dishes out, the more the meter on his machine slips into the danger zone. Sam Sparks, who is very intelligent (but prefers to hide it), serves as Chewandswallow’s medium for exposure. Flint falls in love with Sam after she validates his inventions. In turn, he confirms that he likes her nerd side and shouldn’t hide it. She then wears his glasses and ties her hair up in a ponytail to resemble her original self.
Once Flint sees that the food has grown to a dangerous size, he considers turning off the machine, but the mayor gets in his head again, telling him that “bigger is better.” After a violent pasta storm interrupts the opening ceremony for tourism, Flint becomes distraught and loses his ambition. However, his determination is renewed after Flint’s dad returns his lab coat. He and Sam fly up to the sky to tackle the machine and uses his dad’s help to send him the “kill code” needed to deactivate his machine. Once that fails, Flint gets the idea to use the spray can he invented as a kid for spray on shoes. The machine implodes, and the town is saved. Praised for his heroic efforts, Flint shares a kiss with Sam, and his father is able to say that he’s proud of his son.
This film is still beloved today by fans around the world. If you haven’t seen it, know that I highly recommended watching it. Both kids and adults will enjoy this animated film. The graphics are beautiful, there’s plenty of puns to go around, and you’ll likely enjoy its references to other movies. What’s more: tons of passion went into Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and it shows.
I loved this movie and I’ve re-watched it countless times. Although I liked the book, the movie invites us to follow an ambitious character on a wild adventure. It makes for a more exciting and humorous story. And there’s enough father-to-son and nerd-to-nerd interaction to make you go “aww.” I’ll take the animated Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs any day.