Thursday, March 19th, 2009
Book vs. Movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
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.