Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

Real Meatballs and SauceImage by Jeff Cushner via Flickr

The book Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett has been a grade-school favorite since its publication in 1982. Now it's an animated movie, and I've got some good and bad news for fans of the book:
  • The bad: The movie version is very, very, very different from the book.
  • The good: You will probably love the movie too, just for different reasons.
Many of the changes simply adapt the material to the film medium, and to modern sensibilities. In the book, it;s a grandpa telling tall tales about food storms. There's no hero, no girl to get, and no plot. That's fine for a bedtime story, but wouldn't make for a very interesting film.

In the movie version, we get to see why it's raining hot dogs and pizza. It's a cookie-cutter plot superimposed on the town of Chewandswallow from the book -- the hero changes the weather, falls in love, and then has to fix the huge mess he made. So far, so bad, right?

But here's the thing: from script to post-production, the people who made the movie love it and dare to go all the way with every wacky idea. If this was Shrek, you'd see the spray-on shoes joke exactly once, and the whole thing would be a cavalcade of throwaway pop-culture jokes. In Meatballs, every one of the potentially one-off jokes becomes a running gag with real importance to the plot.

I loved all the in-jokes and references to movie history, and my kids were laughing at the rat-birds and food fights. I would love to see sequels built around inventor Flint Lockwood. That franchise wouldn't build on the Barrett's only follow-up, but could grow into a pop culture phenomenon all its own. And that's just fine by me.

5 easy stars on a five-star scale!
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