Foodie Tuesday: A Modern Travesty, or--Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, the Book vs. the Movie

Given how much I love food, children's books, and movies... well, you know I HAD to say something about this.

Back when I was a kid, it went without saying that Judi and Ron Barrett's excellent Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was one of my favoritest picture books, ever.  As a kid, my imagination lit up at the thought of this magical place called Chewandswallow, where food rained down from the sky, where no one went hungry, and where everyone, regardless of color, got to eat yummy American food instead of boring Chinese food.

As an adult, I can appreciate stuff like the beautifully painstaking details of the woodcut illustrations.  I remember a few things well.  The banks of cumulus hamburger clouds.  The Jell-O sunset.  The roofless restaurant.  And of course, Grandpa's pancakes.

But, then I saw the trailer for the new movie.  As it began, I had no idea what they were getting at--it looked like another silly excuse for a Hollywood kid's movie that had been developed within an inch of its life (too many cooks in the kitchen, pardon the pun).  The trailer was halfway through before I realized it was a film adaptation of this most beloved children's classics.

First off, while they borrowed heavily from the visual concepts presented in the original book, the movie retains none of the book's rich, charming artistic style.  While the real Chewandswallow is a place peopled with colorful characters, busy and alive with warmth, the world of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, the movie, is a cold and empty place where there's only the main character and his female sidekick/love interest.  Not to mention, the book includes a ton of incredible details that I'll never get sick of discovering (Rich people frowning over limp broccoli! A newspaper called the 'Chewandswallow Digest'! Lower Intestine Street!).  Compare images from the book and the movie in the diptychs I made below, along with some extra images I love from the book.

Secondly, in the book, food raining like manna from the sky is presented as, gasp, a good thing.  As a kid I totally ate up (har har) the different scenes of regular citizens going about their day, catching chicken drumsticks on the go and filling their umbrellas with orange juice. In the movie, food is a menace from the get-go.

Thirdly, like Superman, Chewandswallow comes with inherent superpowers.  Its ability to shower food on its citizens is totally natural, delightful even.  In the movie, the food is the creation of some loser mad-scientist guy.  How lame is that?

Lastly, the storytelling in the book is wonderfully tongue-in-cheek and smart, if very straightforward.  I really doubt the movie will carry on any of that subtlety and delicacy as it whups us in the face with its fancy effects and loud graphics.

I'm definitely one to agree with this blogger that Hollywood is about to turn this masterpiece into a "shitty, nihilistic movie."

16 responses
I recently had to watch the movie for work and although it doesn't have the subtlety and charm of the book (what adapted movie does?) I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Cute writing and stars like Bill Hader actually made it somewhat witty and, contrary to what you might see in the previews the food-rain isn't presented as a great thing at all. I'm not sure if I would go so far as to recommend you pay money to see it but it's probably not as atrocious as you think!
@Christina thanks for the insight... good to know the movie is not quite as terrible as it looks =) Maybe it'll go on the Netflix queue ;)
OMG!! I want to see this movie !!!!
whoops!after read your article..I want to read the book instead :)
I'm not familiar with the book, but your illustrations show that you are right on. They totally could have kept the charm of the original and made an animated classic instead of just another kid's movie. The good news is that is can be done again the right way any time someone wants to make the effort. Hollywood doesn't mind remakes.
@Don You are certainly right about Hollywood not minding remakes.  I think there are something like 37 versions of Jane Eyre out there.  And 2 Hulks in the last ten years =)
Just like you wouldn't judge a book by it's cover, you shouldn't judge a movie by it's trailer.

Your first point was that there isn't any colorful characters or wonderful little details in the movie, but there is! The main character's father, the police officer played by Mr. T, the south american cameraman, the insane mayor, the man with the fake beard, and so on. All of these characters in the movie were very funny and beautifully animated. The comedy is very fast-paced and there are many little, thoughtful jokes throughout the movie that kids wouldn't understand. Kids love the silly bits, but the sophisticated "adult" jokes elude them and make it enjoyable for kids and adults. For example, the names of the stores in the city square are all food puns, just like the newspaper pun in the book that you mentioned.

Your second point was that the movie made the food a menace from the get-go but that's not true. Everyone loves the food at the start. They drink orange juice from umbrellas and have snowball fights with ice cream.

Your third point is that they added a lame, loser mad scientist as the main character. Yes, he is a loser, an outcast, a weirdo, but he's incredibly smart and was well played by Bill Hader. Losers are sometimes the best kind of heroes. Also, if there was no main character in the movie, it would not have been a very good movie. Most of the times, there's a lot of good reasons NOT to make the movie exactly like the book.

And while I also admire the detail and craftsmanship of woodcut illustrations, I am equally in awe of the artistic talent that goes into computer animation. It's not like a computer animator just pushes a button and the computer spits out a perfect image. If you only knew the painstaking effort it takes to model, paint, rig, light, code, animate, simulate and render each frame.

I wouldn't tell you to go see this movie. I don't know you, so I have no idea what your sense of humor is like. I personally thought this movie was hilarious. My girlfriend says that she hasn't heard me laugh that hard in a long time.

I'm sorry about the long comment but I was just completely surprised by your condemnation of the movie and I had to say something.

(FYI, one of your comparison pictures is from the video game and is not a scene from the movie.)

Thank you John Christopher, glad to know i'm not the only one who loved the movie.

I loved the look and style of the movie, because it fits the zany feel of 'food falling from the sky' and gave it a lighthearted warmth that kids would love. Don't get me wrong, i agree that the book was illustrated beautifully, and you can tell all the work that went into it... but in all honesty, (and don't shoot me for this) it just doesn't feel 'fun'. to a kid it looks 'boring', and looks a little too much like real life (sans the falling food of course) The story was interesting, but that was all that did it for me as a kid, i would have rather seen more color, and more life... and thats what the movie had to offer.

The way i see it, if the book HAD to be made into a movie, i'm glad that these were the people who made it. i couldn't have thought of a better way to show it. it was fun, hilarious, and you really feel for the 'loser' as you put. and its not like one of those other kid's comedies where its filled with just stupid pop culture references and potty humor. this movie can be zany, and somewhat witty at times, and most of all... it actually has heart.

I HIGHLY recommend you to see this movie if you haven't already done so, OP... and try and with an open mind...

Jesus. I'm fifteen and I was read this book over and over again as a kid and loved it. I really despise whichever opportunistic individual made this into a movie. The movie, from first glance, looks nothing like the book. I refuse to even sit through a commercial for this movie. And if it actually is a good movie (as I refuse to believe) then they could have at least called it something else and then said it was based on a children's book. Then I might have gone to see it. But calling it "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" implies that it actually has something to with the book, other than having food fall from the sky. When people want to see a film adaption of a book, they expect it to be just like the book, except on the big screen. However, I'm not sure if they could have replicated it exactly anyway, because it was a short story without a main character except the girl that the story is being told to. But if they had to make it into a film, couldn't they have called it something else?
For example, the movie Blade Runner is based on the book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" but has major differences to the book, which is why it is called "Blade Runner" and not the title of the book. Does anyone see what I'm getting at?
Adam, i'm actually glad that they kept the original title. i HATE it when hollywood shortens or changes the title just so that it seems 'cool'. like your example... do you HONESTLY think they would have named their big blockbuster "Do Androids Dream of Sheep?" !? no, they just slap on a shorter, hip sounding name...
In this day and age where we have a whole ****load of movies vaguely named 'Obsessed' or 'The Stepfather' or my personal favorite... 'Fighting' (yes, the movie is called 'fighting'! FIGHTING! Come on! Let us applaud this creativity) i'm still waiting for the movie 'Explosions' or perhaps 'Death'. its just nice to see a movie that doesn't feel the need to make their title sound 'cool'. God, could you imagine?

'Food: the movie'...
'Heaven's Banquet'...
'Food Fight: the Sky Strikes Back'...
'You think you have the meatBALLS?'...
'An Inconvenient Truth 2: THIS will also happen'...
'Anyone for seconds?' (sequel idea)

This movie may not have been TOTALLY close to the book, but at least it was a good movie (that you can tell they worked very hard on) enough so much that kids will want to read the book as well. it could have been worse; if they stuck close to the book, it would (sadly) be horrible.

And please... Watch the movie, its really good, even without the book, it's good on its own bill... (and don't say 'Then, Why did they name it the same as the book?' because if they didn't, then people would just b**** about that they 'Totally ripped off this book!')

Watch it... i dare you

So I just have to say... having worked in the film business I
understand why movies should not be slavishly accurate to the original
book/story etc, because it is, after all, a totally different medium
with a totally different dynamic (and in many cases, a slightly
different audience). That said, it is definitely possible to capture
the spirit of the original work when adapting to movies...i think that
is where the genius comes into things like the Lord of the Rings
trilogy, where the movies are actually quite different from the books
but no one noticed or complained because Pete Jackson did a fantastic
job capturing the books' essence. With Cloudy Meatballs, it was just
disappointing how different the "look and feel" was from the book.
I haven't read the book. I'm an adult and I thought the movie was hilarious when a friend made me watch it. I also thought it looked dumb from the trailer, but I can relate to the nerdy scientist character.
2 years later... im almost positive you have seen the movie at this point. If not.. you really need to. I saw the movie before ever even knowing there was a book and it is honestly one of the greatest animated movies Ive ever seen. Full of content, rife with tiny little jokes and quirks.. its the furthest thing from shallow and empty.

I know what its like to have something you cherish bastardized for bucks, but this truly and wholeheartedly stands up on its own i promise you.

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