A long, long time ago in a small house far, far away (hold the cynical remarks, it’s a children’s movie), two young kids listened as their Grandpa Henry told them the story of the town of Chewandswallow, where the weather is contingent upon the three meal times. Rather than water, the rain consists of the libation of various soups, juices and other potables from the sky. The snow consists of mashed potatoes, and the wind’s fury gives way to flying hamburgers. While these quirky weather patterns provide a daily stock of food to the land’s inhabitants, they often take on malicious manifestations in stormy weather, inflicting daily suffering on Chewandswallow’s residents in the form of tomato-sauce tornadoes, giant meatballs and pancakes.

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

At Quality 16 and Showcase
Columbia

All of these events, whether happy or hapless, are detailed in full in Judi Barrett’s children’s book “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” Published in 1978, the book’s contemporary big-screen adaptation retains many of the printed version’s positive aspects, yet also attempts to present its own politicized notions of America’s society of excess. The film seeks to answer the question: How exactly did the town of Chewandswallow become an epicenter of tasty torrents, succulent squalls and delectable downpours?

Enter Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader, “Saturday Night Live”), prospective inventor and (in the eyes of many of his peers) bumbling madman. His story begins long before Chewandswallow met its palatable fortunes, in a time when the town had “no flavor” and survived solely on sardines. Lockwood dreams of a town in which his fellow man’s subsistence is no longer dependent upon such a disgusting, fishy food, so he makes the abrupt decision to invent a machine that transforms ordinary water into dream cuisine. But before Lockwood’s dream can be brought to fruition, a freak accident results in the small machine’s projection into the stratosphere, where it sucks in the moisture of the clouds and creates catastrophic food-storms that threaten humanity’s very survival.

Granted, the film’s premise is a bit too extraordinary to appeal to most adults, but audiences of all ages will enjoy the fresh perspective offered by the 3-D graphic design. The film’s animators certainly didn’t take full advantage of the liberation from depth that the 3-D animations granted them, but their explorations of this new graphical style are sufficiently ambitious to merit a closer look. The slapstick comedy marks a delightfully nostalgic return to the “old ways” of filmmaking. Overused? Maybe, but it would be nice to pretend that we live in a world in which all humor is not carelessly derived from sexual innuendo and vulgar utterances.

Overall, the film’s material, though unlikely to amaze a practicing cinephile, is substantial and worth the extra money paid to see it. The political allusions to gluttony and excessive consumerism may be overwrought (“WALL-E,” anyone?), but one might venture outside the realm of “political correctness” to point out that the film’s contention with our way of life is entirely true. Rather than addressing the problem of a society in which two-thirds of adults are overweight, we continue to exploit our abundance of resources to meet our own selfish ends. Overwrought or not, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” confronts us all with a message that we are more than willing to accept as true, but unwilling to apply to our daily lives.

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