2009 was the best year ever for animated movies (2010 is the runner-up, but more on that later), and one of its highlights is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. The movie was created by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, whose career credits are now 1) cult hit Clone High, 2) the second season of How I Met Your Mother, 3) Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 4) 21 Jump Street, and 5) The Lego Movie — each of which I know from first hand experience or from effusive reviews are immensely entertaining. They’re basically my most trusted name in Hollywood now.
If you haven’t seen the movie, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now, and I wouldn’t blame you. Cloudy gives the impression of a generic kids’ animated film, but… well, actually have you seen the trailer? It looks kind of funny, right?
Turns out the trailer is misleading. This movie isn’t kind of funny.. it’s absolutely hilarious. And also batshit crazy in an admirable, smart sort of way.
More than that, it’s well-crafted. The script is rock-solid: The characters are fantastic and the plotting is remarkably tense. Where some kids’ films meander or stuff gross-out jokes in the script, Cloudy is trim and breakneck, pretty much every scene essential and adding to the conflict. It’s a good movie as much as it’s a fun one, which is to say: extremely.
Miraculously — thanks to a fantastic marketing campaign, the funny trailers, and solid reviews — this piece of high lunacy reeled in quite a bit of dough, too. This movie will be shown to kids for the next 20 years.
I’m happy about that, but also a little bit disappointed that I won’t have to spread the gospel about this movie. I’m going to miss out on a lot of enthusiastic phone calls and emails telling me just how right I was that this movie is hilarious and not just for kids.
The plot centers around an aspiring inventor named Flint Lockwood and the members of Swallow Falls, known for their sardine factory. The factory closes because “everyone in the world realized that sardines are super gross,” and the town is struggling.
Meanwhile, Flint is obsessed with science and technology, while his dad just wants to run an old fishing bait shop. The two are having trouble seeing eye-to-eye.
Flint can never quite control his creations: from an over-powerful hair-un-balder to genetic hybrid monstrosity “rat-bird,” nothing quite turns out the way he expects. As such, he has a reputation for causing trouble around town.
Unfazed by his failures, Flint is determined to show off his latest and greatest invention: A machine that turns water into food. But his machine turns into a rocket and tears up “Sardine Land,” a theme park supposed to save Swallow Falls. He also messes up the weather broadcast of Sam Sparks, an aspiring meteorologist.
And so the fortunes of Swallow Falls change; Flint is a sudden superstar, saving the town from a sardine-flavored fate. Everyone but his old-fashioned dad sees it as a miracle. What could go wrong?
Well, the machine gradually escapes control: the food gets bigger, more monstrous, until it’s beyond saving. Flint needs to pull the plug, despite the protestation from the mayor, now morbidly obese.
The mayor sabotages the device, meaning Flint has to fly up into the heart of the food storm to shut everything down himself.
What ensues is one of the greatest climaxes in animation history, a balls-to-the-wall, high-octane blast of danger and surreal comedy. For some reason, critics hated the end of this movie. I don’t get it. I mean… I guess it is a little bit kinetic, but that’s kind of the point: Flint pays off the physical debt of creating something from nothing. It nails the vibe of the movie so well and raises the intensity so well.
There’s so much to love about the details of the movie. Every scene has been polished and thought through to make it funny, develop characters, and make Swallow Falls (or “Chewandswallow,” as it’s renamed) a crazy but fleshed out town.
I love how the movie displays the town’s fascination with its food weather as a sort of perversion… There’s something tremendously creepy and Freudian about a former child star walking around in a giant baked chicken. Food coming to life and trying to eat people is way more disturbing than critics dared to mention.
But it’s the manic pace and heart of the movie that I’ll forever treasure. This is a movie made for the ADD age, and whose primary purpose is making fun of the ADD age.
There’s some meta-jokes here, like the way Sam does the reverse of the cliche of “taking off the glasses” to become pretty routine.
The animation is marvelous. There’s a reason this was one of the first movies they released for 3D TV’s — the design and execution of the CGI are stunning, occasionally epic, like a disaster film. (There’s a decent case to be made that this movie is actually in the disaster genre. Anyone want to write that article?)
But it’s more than just technically impressive: The film uses clever animation to enhance the emotion and story. When Flint is at his nadir early on, isolated and hated from the rest of the town, he’s stuck inside a glass bowl separating him from everyone else. And when Sam makes a quick glance for the exit of a Jello castle Flint has built her, but joins him anyway, it shows us just how much of crazy match she is Flint. In particular, the eyes are of the characters are extremely expressive and well-done.
The voice acting, too, is superb: Mr. T as a cop who says Flint’s name with a peculiar cadence (“Flint Lock-Woooood”) is a definite highlight, and props if you can guess who plays the monkey before the credits roll. But Bill Hader is the heart of it, and he does an admirable job as Flint.
There’s a sequel that I haven’t seen (out of principle), but a lot of the same writers were involved, and reviews were decent, so maybe I should give it a try.
Okay, enough with the review-speak. Let’s get to the great clips! Embrace the crazy!
Cloudy sets the tone with this montage of Flint’s failed inventions.
The classic intro of the cheeseburger rain… God, those gasps.
A particularly Looney Tunes-esque scene: Flint navigating a spaghetti tornado.
And, maybe my favorite scene, Flint’s skeptical dad (a wonderfully well-rounded character, I’ll add), raising his iconic eyebrows: