Book vs. Movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

A small sample portion of a large illustration in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This snippet shows a mother racing with a baby stroller away from two chocolate donuts with sprinkles that are rolling down the street after her.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett, is a fun little book for older toddlers. It’s about the town of Chewandswallow, a land where three meals a day fall from the sky. To be prepared for any kind of weather, you always bring your plate, cup and utensils with you when you leave home. No back story. That’s just how the weather works.

There is no central character in the story; the focus is on how people live in a land of plenty that turns humorously horrific. One day the falling food begins growing in size and the portions are far more than people can eat. It quickly becomes a safety issue and the townspeople abandon Chewandswallow, fleeing to the ocean on giant peanut butter sandwich rafts. They eventually arrive at distant shores that are based in our own reality.

The book is rated for 4- to 8-year-olds. My daughter began enjoying it at age 3, but it’s definitely for a mature child because the illustrations are unusual. They are reminiscent of stipple portraits, the type of face illustrations seen in the Wall Street Journal and on US dollars — composed of dots and straight lines. On top of that, the drawings sparingly use color, usually some variation of red, yellow, black and white. It’s an acquired taste, but surmountable with an enthusiastic reader.

I’m excited and disappointed that Sony Pictures is making a film version of the story, due for a US release this September. Watch this trailer:

Judging by the trailer, the story has been genderized to be about a young male inventor who makes the sky rain food. Presumably the story follows his need to correct the problem he created. Maybe the woman shown with him plays a central role. We’ll know more as more trailers are released.

This gender thing bothers me because the majority of films from my youth feature boys. Worse, they relegate girls to stereotypical roles. I picked up Goonies last week, albeit years away from an appropriate viewing age for my daughter… but in watching it again I remembered that the prominent girl in the film dutifully plays a pretty face sheepishly wrapped around the arm of a repugnant pig who doesn’t appreciate her and doesn’t need to because she’s a follower. Her most redeeming quality is her personal revelation that she loves the wrong boy. Oh well.

I’d love to tweak the Chance of Meatballs film so that it is a vague love or friendship story between the man and woman, each given equal time with back stories about growing up as quirky inventors. It is their combined quirkiness that results in food weather, and their combined ingenuity that resolves the resulting dilemma.

If not that, then resort to a typical TV disaster movie plot… follow some characters through their day, then watch them react as they fight their way out of the disaster. It worked for overturned cruise ships and submerged airplanes in the ’70s. Why can’t a town be besieged by giant slabs of pizza, French fries and pickles without it being anyone’s fault? It’s a children’s movie. Have some fun without making yet another boy movie.

I’ll let you know what my daughter thinks of the film in a couple years. At almost 5-years-old she avoids tense conflict. We’ve never finished reading Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, which, by the way, hits movie screens this October. I doubt we’ll be seeing a fast-paced action animation film anytime soon. No matter. I’m sure in both cases the books are better.


13 Responses to “Book vs. Movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”

  1. Molly says:

    This is my all time favorite book. There is a sequel entitled Pickles to Pittsburg, it is not as good. I don;t know about the movie… it has a backstory (do we really need one?)…. I rather like the fact that in the book Chewandswallow is legend and not reality.

    March 19th, 2009 at 6:18 am

  2. Allison says:

    I loved this book as a child! I had totally forgotten about it.

    I’m not sure about the movie though, that trailer doesn’t have the same magic for me as the book.

    March 19th, 2009 at 8:33 am

  3. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    I LOVED this book in elementary school and have been looking for a copy for my boy.

    March 19th, 2009 at 9:37 am

  4. Amy says:

    My 4-yr-old daughter loves this book, but I think the movie looks like it might take away a few brain cells :( The book certainly leaves more to her imagination. But it may be a good excuse to take her to her first movie theatre outing!

    March 19th, 2009 at 12:15 pm

  5. Amber says:

    I remember poring and poring over the illustrations in this book when I was a kid. Totally entranced (now I’m an artist, go figure ;) ).

    I too had forgotten all about it. Will have to pick one up for the kiddies.

    March 19th, 2009 at 4:36 pm

  6. PAUL says:

    One of the all time best for me and my family, also – I think we have TWO copies! Illustrations are phenonmenal – My son and I love looking at the incredible detail. After the ginormous disappointment of the Tale of Desperaux movie, I can’t see how this book would translate to the big screen any better…Will almost certainly skip the movie and allow my imagination to bring this story to life – it’s worked for 30 years, why ruin it now?

    March 19th, 2009 at 5:54 pm

  7. Sara says:

    I haven’t heard of this book, though it looks like something my 3-y-o would enjoy. However, I find that movies often are not as good as the books they are based on, not just in kids books but grown up fiction, too. I have avoided watching movies of books that I really love because I am afraid to see someone interpret the book when I already have it pictured in my mind so well. My hubby disagrees. He feels that a great story can be told many ways without it being damaged.

    March 19th, 2009 at 7:04 pm

  8. Diana (Ladybug Limited) says:

    I am so often disappointed by the book-to-movie transformation, that I don’t even get my hopes up anymore. Guess this one isn’t the exception to the rule either…

    March 19th, 2009 at 9:26 pm

  9. nrbp says:

    This is one of those books that is consistently chosen at bedtime by one or the other of the kids (the sequel hasn’t been as big of a hit). As a movie, I don’t know–we haven’t had much luck with movie adaptations of stories we have loved; we’d all rather re-read the books. The Scholastic DVDs are good, but they are hardly adaptations.

    We were all excited to hear that Zach Braff was going to make a movie version of one of our favorites, _Andrew Henry’s Meadow_ (by Doris Burns), but more skeptical about Steven Speilberg taking on Tintin.

    March 19th, 2009 at 10:27 pm

  10. PisecoMom says:

    I absolutely agree with you on the gender issue.

    At the moment, though, my 6 yo son was entranced by the trailer – I didn’t tell him what it was and as soon as those burgers started to fall he exclaimed, “Look! He made clouds like in Chewandswallow!” So he made the “right” association immediately…

    But I’m sure, too, that no movie experience can match the love of a good book.

    March 20th, 2009 at 6:27 am

  11. Gabriella says:

    I LOVED this book! My parents did, too. I guess our entire family loved it. We read this book every night, and my parents also volunteered at a preschool, where they read this book to the children a lot.

    March 20th, 2009 at 4:06 pm

  12. Cathy @ Chief Family Officer says:

    Honestly, I didn’t expect much from the movie (and apparently I was right not to), but we LOVE the book around here too! We actually have a 30-year-old version that’s falling apart and my 2-year-old keeps tearing “the meatball book.” So I ordered a new one from Amazon but they CHANGED THE WORDS!!! Maybe it’s just b/c I’m used to the original, but the new version just doesn’t flow as well to me so I was quite disappointed. It really is an excellent story, though. By the way, my 2-year-old’s other favorite book is If You Give A Moose A Muffin, which I also highly recommend.

    March 25th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

  13. Ashlee says:

    I saw a trailer today and definitely will not be seeing it, It doesn’t look anything like the book. I can’t watch another childrens classic be destroyed by a movie.

    September 7th, 2009 at 9:01 pm

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