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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has to be one of my favourite kids' movies of all time. I actually first watched it before I even had children. I was pregnant with my eldest son, off work with a rotten cold and in need of something lighthearted to cheer me up. Little did I realise it would later become one of his favourite films and that I would be forced to watch it about a gazillion times. But I'm still really fond of it despite the frequency of the reruns. This is something I definitely can't say for some of his other favourites.

If you haven't seen the movie, the story is simple. Flint Lockwood is an enthusiastic genius inventor in the town of Swallow Falls. He has sadly never reached his full potential, because most of his inventions are plain dumb. This time he's busy working on a machine that will turn water into food - and for once his invention does actually work. The only problem is, it accidentally gets launched into the atmosphere, where it starts drawing in the water vapour in the clouds and producing food rain. The townspeople love it (because up to this point, they've been living solely on sardines), but things start going wrong when the machine gets overloaded and the food starts to dangerously mutate...

Why do I love it so much? It's fun, it moves along at a fair old pace, the characters are great, and most of all, it's just plain funny. There aren't so many children's films which have a sense of humour which also appeals to adults, but this is definitely one of them. It also has some really nice messages, including being true to yourself, and learning to see things from others' perspectives - all without being in any way smushy or too obvious.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Loosely based on

When I got hold of a copy of the 1978 book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett, I was surprised to find that it is a picture book. I don't know why, but I was expecting it to be more of a middle-grade chapter book, so I was already mildly disappointed because I was expecting there to be a bit more meat to the story, if you'll pardon the pun.

The copy I have claims that over four million copies have been sold, which is pretty impressive! I couldn't ascertain when this particular copy was printed, but I'm guessing it is pre-2009, and that the movie has led to far more sales for the Barratts. It was first published in the USA, and I think it is much more of a childhood book for American children than it was for us Brits. I don't remember reading it when I was young - or even being aware of it at all until the movie was released. In that respect, I guess the movie has done a lot to promote the book to new audiences, although it still isn't really a title you would find on the shelves of a mainstream bookshop over here.



In a sense, the movie is actually quite loyal to the book. Probably 80% of the illustrations in the book appear in the film in some form. After reading it, I had great fun re-watching the movie, seeing how many I could spot. Sometimes it is the same idea but slightly altered (such as the rooftop restaurant), and sometimes they are almost identical (such as the waste removal machines, above).

In case you are a total geek like me, also appearing in both are: the giant Jell-O, the food mutations, the tornado (including a man in the bath and a man knocking at a door), the giant pancake closing the school, the toast boats, a lady sticking her hand out of her car to catch pancakes, pie rain stopping a baseball game, someone drinking orange juice out of an umbrella, a man watching the weather report on TV, a lady running to catch chicken drumsticks and a man with macaroni stuck on his head.


Cloudy with a chance of meatballs


Whilst 80% of the illustrations appear in the movie, there are a small number that don't. This is because in the book, the food mutates to not only be bigger, but it also starts coming down in unappetising combinations, such as brussel sprouts with peanut butter and mayonnaise. For whatever reason, the film's producers decided not to go down the route of the food becoming inedible, sticking only with it getting bigger and more unpredictable. I really liked the idea of a pea soup fog, but it sadly didn't make the cut.

However, the film does add far more than it takes away. The book doesn't offer any explanations as to why the town is subject to food weather, it just is. It also doesn't offer any reason as to why the food starts to mutate, finally forcing all the townspeople to abandon their homes. The story also lacks any central characters - it is a story about the town as a whole. It is presented to us as a bedtime story being told by a grandfather to his grandchildren, which keeps it all at arm's length and stops us ever really feeling involved. Whilst this all works for a simple picture book, it's not enough to hang a movie off.

Fortunately, the movie producers realised this and beefed it up to create a backstory, some likeable characters, and a spot of conflict. We get a bunch of great characters who all have their own demons to face - Flint and Sam, who both learn that popularity isn't as important as being true to yourself; Flint's Dad, a old-school fisherman who has to come to understand his scientist son; and Baby Brent, who finally learns he can't keep relying on his childhood fame. Perhaps best of all, the film borrows heavily from every disaster movie ever and introduces the greedy town mayor, who remains completely oblivious to the fact that his own ambitions for the town aren't necessarily in it's best interests.


As a picture book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs works well. The illustrations are engaging, and the idea is just right for small children. But whilst it is light and fun, the source material just isn't quite enough for a whole movie. The film producers took the basic ingredients and made a three course meal out of it, and fortunately, they did a really good job.

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs

You can find Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs quite easily - either new or secondhand.

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