Before The LEGO Movie catapulted the creative team-up of Phil Lord and Chris Miller into the spotlight, the writing/directing duo cut their teeth turning a children’s picture book from the ’70s into a sizable theatrical debut: 2009’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. And it’s absolutely great.
The original subject matter, which was written by Judy Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett, told the story of a town called Chewandswallow (the name of the place was changed to Swallow Falls in the movie) and a gargantuan assortment of food that inexplicably fell from the sky. As the delectable weather patterns increased, the destruction of the town grew as well. But while the concept of the 1978 book was fun to look at, there were really no answers as to why breakfast, lunch, and dinner were falling from the clouds.
Lord and Miller — who would eventually rise to prominence with films like 21 Jump Street and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — aimed to change that when pitching their idea for the 3-D family-friendly animated disaster flick to Sony, who owned the rights to the book. And after five years of working on the script, the duo’s big screen debut hit theaters on September 18, 2009. It was so successful it spawned a sequel and a TV show.
Comfort binge-watching has become the name of the game in 2020, which makes Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs the perfect movie to revisit — which you can do any time on Movies Anywhere. Heck, it’s even Screen Pass-eligible, which is worth celebrating. Simply put: over a decade later, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s first movie still hits the spot. Here’s why.
Starting From Scratch
To ensure the film would have legs, Lord and Miller had to go to the drawing board and recreate much of the story from scratch. Yes, there are aspects of the 30-page book that appear throughout — some of the animation looks as if it was pulled directly from Ron Barrett’s sketchbook — but the nuanced characters and layered conflict featured throughout the flick were all cooked up by the duo.
The story follows aspiring young inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) who, as we see early on, has a passion for science and making things. As expected with any underdog story, Flint immediately receives ridicule and pushback from his community, which is only exacerbated by his own misunderstanding father, Tim (voiced by James Caan), who just wants Flint to follow in his footsteps and work at the family’s bait-and-tackle shop.
Going against his dad’s wishes, Lockwood takes it upon himself to create a machine that converts water into food. And once he shoots his invention up into the sky, with some moral support from his monkey sidekick Steve (Neil Patrick Harris), his vision is soon realized as cheeseburgers begin to rain down on the town.
Flint goes from being the nerdy punchline to town hero as he brings spectacle, sustenance, and hope to Swallow Falls, leading to renewed dreams of tourism commerce. The young man soon comes face-to-face with aspiring weather girl and potential love interest Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), who seems to be the only one who recognizes Flint’s genius. Unfortunately, the gluttonous Mayor Shelbourne (Bruce Campbell) exploits Flint’s talents for his own personal gains. And the result is utter calamity.
As the mayor’s influence on Flint brings the young man newfound fame, the food falling from the sky gets disastrously big until his machine is pushed to its breaking point and the overall climate changes from the serene ice cream landscape to a fiery world-ending pasta storm surge.
Facing the catastrophe head-on, Flint, Steve, Sam, Officer Earl Devereaux (Mr. T), and Baby Brent (Andy Samberg) — the diaper-wearing adult town mascot who outgrew his fame long ago — band together as an unlikely group of heroes and saves humanity from the worst food coma imaginable.
The World-Building Is Stunning and Hilarious
Aside from the movie’s detailed story and epic voice cast, one of the biggest highlights of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is the lush animation and the comedic elements that seem to fill every frame. Before jumping to the big-screen, Phil Lord and Chris Miller worked with Scrubs-creator Bill Lawrence to create the short-lived animated series Clone High. Using the skills they honed on that program, as well as other small-screen gems like How I Met Your Mother, the writing partners worked to create a collection of well-rounded characters that were full of heart and humor.
Of course, it’s also worth pointing out how fun it is to watch gargantuan cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pancakes, and ice cream fall from the clouds. The visuals of food literally raining from above, along with the movie’s character quirks (the comedy derived from Tim’s eyebrows and mustache deserves its own hat tip) and a 1950s propaganda art style, bring a retro quality to the tale that appeals to audiences of all-ages. That aesthetic feels like a nod to an innocent, simpler time when America’s fast food craze was still in its infancy. Which, of course, leads us directly into the eye of the gluttonous storm waiting right on the horizon.
This brings us to the third act, which finds Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs pivoting into full-blown Armageddon territory as our team of heroes take to the sky to stop, well, armageddon. The tone shifts as the film goes full-tilt into science fiction disaster movie mode. And while we don’t see Will Smith punching aliens in the face, Baby Brent does lay the smackdown on a group of sentient chickens, saving Flint and Sam, providing a satisfying crescendo to the man-baby’s unexpected hero arc.
It’s Full of Important Lessons
At the heart of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a story about the positive influence of science and innovation on the younger generation. It’s about following your dreams, giving an ear to that curious voice inside your head. On the flipside of that coin, you could also view this as a warning about greed and distrust and the ways in which they deflate innovative thinking and pave the way for destruction — whether it’s in the form of obesity, climate change, or civil unrest.
And then there’s the father-son storyline between Flint and Tim, which gets resolved after Flint’s dad, who mostly speaks in fishing metaphors, helps his son save the world leading him to finally profess his love and pride for his son’s accomplishments. Watching Tim recognize his son’s heroism feels eerily similar to a subplot featured in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which Lord co-wrote and he and Miller produced.
One final big lesson that has been explored over-and-over in Lord and Miller’s work, whether it’s Emmet’s (Chris Pratt) journey to save the world in The LEGO Movie, Miles’s mission to take down Kingpin in Into the Spider-Verse, or even Tandy’s (Will Forte) uphill battle to survive the apocalypse in The Last Man on Earth, is simply: teamwork makes the dreamwork. Much like the examples listed above, Flint’s adventure in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs would’ve most-likely faltered if it weren’t for the support of his teammates.
It’s Just Fun Comfort Food
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a fast-paced adventure that never feels rushed. It serves up a heaping helping of laughs and heart, and teaches us some important lessons along the way. When all is said and done, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s theatrical debut is like a satisfying three-course meal that both leaves you feeling pleasantly full and hungry for more.
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These posters are the definition of epic.
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