Don't let the spectacular 3-D imagery in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs fool you. Over the past few months I have become leery of movies in 3-D because touting that technology was always a tip-off that the story was going to take a back seat.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, adapting the children's story by Judi and Ron Barrett, have crafted a very clever film.
Socially awkward Flint Lockwood has wanted to be an inventor since childhood, but like so many famous creators, his early efforts have disastrous side-effects. But when he accidentally launches an invention into the sky that can turn water into food -- hamburgers begin raining down from the clouds like manna from heaven. Flint becomes a celebrity. His nondescript village, once famous only for its sardines, becomes an international destination city. Everyone wants to be his friend, as long as he can keep satisfying their increasing appetites. But when his invention is pushed too far by an attention-seeking mayor, mayhem ensues.
Lord and Miller skip the bodily-function humor so prevalent in contemporary kid's films. They also refuse to stoop to the, now common, sexual innuendo humor often employed by unimaginative directors to get cheap laughs from otherwise bored adults. Instead, they choose to entertain on a higher level. And it really works.
There are some jokes that young kids won't get, but only because the references are before their time. One of the best hearkens back to a black and white episode of The Twilight Zone. Look for it. Kids will still find these moments funny, but adults will find them funnier. The film is also visually complex - it rewards you for paying attention. And you won't want to take your eyes off the screen.
If the film were merely amusing, that would be treat enough. There are few truly funny films out, and laughter is always refreshing. But Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is also engaging in another way.
Integrated into the storyline is a morality tale that strikes on the struggle between character and mere outward appearances, the flattering voice of temptation, the ease of giving in to greed, and the need children have for support, approval, and love from their parents. Unlike a lot of films where all of the moms and dads are idiots, in need of learning life lessons from their children, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs plays fair. It may have fun with, for example, the relative computer illiteracy of some adults, but it also shows the consequences of ignoring parental warnings, while encouraging parents not to exasperate their children.
In many ways, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a movie about growing up and finding your place in the world without compromising who you really are. And that is a challenge at every age. C.S. Lewis noted that the best stories for children were those that also could be enjoyed by adults. This is one of those stories. Go. Enjoy.
Marc T. Newman, Ph.D., is the president of MovieMinistry.com, an organization that provides sermon and teaching illustrations, Bible studies and discussion cards, drawn from popular film, and helps the Church use movies to reach out to others and connect with people. Dr. Newman is an associate professor in the School of Communication and the Arts at Regent University. Requests for media interviews, or reprints of this article, can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org