Jan 27 2010

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

When a literary classic is adapted, particularly a children’s book with plentiful illustrations, there can be a lot of demand for the film to live up to the memories of our childhood, both in tone and quality.  No, this article will not be about Where the Wild Things are, though the film was a favorite of mine this year.  Instead I’m going to take a look at the children’s book adaptation that many viewers thought they would hate after seeing the previews, and see how it really turned out first hand.  How did Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs really turn out?

In talking to friends, there seems to be a lot of misconceptions about this film.  The fact that the visual style was such a departure from the book’s illustrations was certainly jarring upon first seeing the trailers, and it’s comedic/slapstick tone also seemed to counter the more serious, storytelling mood of the book.  While both of these things do in fact different greatly from, it is not out of disrespect to the material.  Instead what the filmmakers have decided to do is create something entirely different, using the plot of the book simply as a launching point or logline for the kind of film they wanted to make.

Is the film they wanted to make enjoyable?  It most certainly is.  In fact, it’s hilarious.  The first thing readers should know is that this movie was written by writers from the How I Met Your Mother show.  If you’re a fan, and if you’re not, you should be, then you will recognize an extremely similar comedic tone here.  Not only that, but many of the characters speak with a similar voice or cadence.  Viewers of the show will feel right at home.  Even if you’re not, there’s plenty to love here.  The voice acting comes from many excellent comic actors (Bill Hader, Bruce Campbell, Anna Farris, Andy Samberg, and the awesome Neal Patrick Harris).  The jokes and gags, while sometimes leaning towards the ridiculous side (but hey, the whole premise is ridiculous) land amazingly well, mostly due to excellent comic timing and execution.  Additionally, the central characters seem to come from a place of great honesty, and become quite relatable and developed despite the short running time.  There’s a father/son moment towards the end that was actually very touching and builds upon multiple plot threads and gags from throughout the film.

The visuals certainly are not what people were expecting, but I find that they suit the tone of the writing better than emulating the illustrations would have.  By taking a more expressionist approach, it adds more universality to the characters and keeps things a bit more fun and playful.  The more realistic style of the book often creates a slightly scary or creepy feel to things which would have hindered this movie.  There are some nice moments of CGI realism here though, some effects with glass and the meatballs and spaghetti themselves come to mind.  But they know when to dial back the realism in favor of CGI perfection for things like ice cream and other foods, allowing them to be the perfect embodiment of deliciousness and desire instead.

Not only is the film a good comedy, but as it enters its third act it becomes an excellent disaster film.  And because it’s not bloated with feints at realism or grandiose like 2012 was this year, it finds itself being the best disaster film in years.  It also does not have the tonal problems that 2012 does, it finds it’s ridiculousness and embraces it, instead of trying to pull back for moments of earnestness.

Also unlike 2012, and surprisingly because of the animated medium, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs manages to put forth more sophisticated allegory than the former film.  There’s some good commentary hear about America’s problems with overconsumption, both in the macro-sense, as in purchasing luxuries, including electronics or anything else we don’t need but buy anyways as a country, and in the micro and more literal sense, in which we eat too much and become obese and overweight.  It’s a simple message but it’s delivered clearly and in a way that doesn’t hit you over the head.

Since this film recently hit DVD and Blu-Ray, I think it’s an excellent time to just say that this movie was a total blast.  The group I saw it with was laughing consistently throughout, and there were a few scenes that even had us in tears.  If you thought this looked dumb or silly, and passed on it like I did, think again.  It’s actually a pretty smart comedy, ranking well even against the best of the live action comedies this year.

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