Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Rated: PG for brief mild language.
Length: 90 minutes
Grade: AA-AA=A
Budget: $100 million
Box Office: $208 million (124 U.S., 84 Intl.)

Written and Directed by: Phil Lord (Extreme Movie) and Chris Miller (Extreme Movie, Shrek 1, 2, and 3), based on the children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett.
Starring: The voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Neil Flynn, Lauren Graham, and Mr. T.

Flint Lockwood is an inventor in the island town of Chewandswallow, where the only food is sardines and sardine derivatives. Hoping to become a hero, he invents a machine that turns water into food, which then begins to rain down main courses on the island until it threatens their destruction with oversized portions.

Entertainment Value: A
Everything about this movie should mean I dislike it. Sony Animation has yet to make a movie I can endure. Saturday Night Live is not on my to-watch list. And the overall plague of chaos as the central element of children’s movies is certainly not underrepresented here. Nevertheless, I loved it. The plot is crazy, but you have to understand it as a send-up of disaster movies. The jokes are frequent, fast, and genuinely funny, starting with the Columbia woman being knocked off her pedestal by a banana in the beginning. And the implications of the movie are fantastic. I enjoyed this all the way through the end credits.

Superficial Content: A-
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B+, Language A-
Toward the end of the movie, there is some “natural” disaster violence from food and some semi-scary moments of fighting a machine that’s become self-aware. Otherwise, this is basically harmless. I was a bit surprised at the use of “hellhole” and “crapballs” each one time only because they seemed out of place in what I would call a G movie. Both boys watched it just fine.

Significant Content: A
Here’s the thing about this movie, it’s actually a fabulous moral fable about gluttony and the evils of overconsumption. One could certainly see how Chewandswallow looks a lot like the United States, at least metaphorically. It’s also a movie which seems to fall right in with the common theme that parents (especially fathers) are repressive impediments to children being all they can be, at least until it turns out that the brooding father was right all along about the imprudence of his son’s inventions. So, parents are vindicated, although I worry that the lasting impression from the movie is the opposite. The motivation to acquire social approval is tremendously powerful and causes people to do all sorts of self-destructive things. TV is driven by appearance rather than substance. Bigger isn’t always better. Smart women should never stifle their intelligence. And politics can corrupt and ruin science.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
As you may already suspect, although this is a wildly funny and entertaining movie, it also raises a wide range of very interesting discussion topics. I particularly think the issue of the 5th Commandment (Honor your father and mother…) in children’s movies is pretty serious, and what’s interesting here is that the father is so negatively portrayed (as opposed to the deceased mother…what is it with children’s movies and missing parents?) whereas his humbug conservatism winds up being right in the end. The artistic question is which message leaves the most lasting impression: his resistance to his son’s genius and living a dull bait and tackle life or his vindication when everything goes awry with the invention he had opposed.

Discussion Questions:
~Why does Sam Sparks try so hard to hide her science knowledge and general intelligence? What factors in the society is she responding to here? What is she worshipping when she does this? How far has our culture moved toward embracing women for their substance as opposed to for their looks? If you’re a girl, have you ever felt pulled to act dumber than you are around men?
~Consider various characters in the movie and ask how they are influenced by the desire to be popular? How do unpopular characters deal with it, and how do popular ones handle threats to theirs? What is it about us that wants so badly to be accepted? What is the Christian solution to this yearning?
~Have you ever misrepresented yourself in order to get approval from other people? What parts of yourself are you least inclined to reveal to others?
~Compare the Biblical story of the Jews in the wilderness being fed manna by God and the Chewandswallowans having adequate food in sardines. In what ways was gluttony a problem for both groups? In what parts of your own life do you see gluttony influencing you, both in overconsumption and in being picky?
~Do you think this movie is an effective sermon on the 5th Commandment? How many movies can you name where “follow your dream” or “children know best” are strong themes?
~Scientists are often criticized by non-scientists for being too eager to make something possible without asking serious enough questions about whether that thing is morally good. How is that theme represented in this movie? ~What do you think of the argument that being able to do something is a good enough reason to do it?
~The mayor at one point declares that bigger is always better. Can you think of some examples where this isn’t true?
~There are some pretty obvious environmental messages in this movie. What ones do you see?
In what ways is this a moral fable about America?
~One of the running jokes in this movie is about the superficiality of the news anchor in relation to Sam Sparks. Do you think this representation of American media is false, exaggerated, or accurate?
~Do you think there’s any symbolic importance to the names “Flintlock Wood” for an inventor and “Sam Sparks” for a journalist?
~If you’ve seen many disaster movies like Armageddon, Twister, or The Day After Tomorrow, can you see ways in which this movie spoofs that genre?
~There’s an old saying popular in the northern red states that “You shouldn’t get too big for your britches.” Is that a fair summary for this movie?
Overall Grade: A
If you can “swallow” the one basic premise that a machine can turn water in to finished food products and possibly become self-aware, you’ll love this movie. It’s very, very silly, and very, very serious all at the same time. Also, I wouldn’t recommend watching it while you’re hungry.

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