Friday, July 23, 2010

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and why I wish stories in movies were better

I could have made a terrible pun in the title of this post.  In fact, I could have made several, but I decided against it.  Because, at its heart, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs deserves better.  So much better, in fact, that it deserved a better story.

I have no trouble with Flint, the crazy inventor stereotype.  He has what most crazy inventor good-guy types have, but in his case it's a little more obvious - he just wants to save the world, whether it's from bad food or shoes that fall apart.  He's like a kid, in that he thinks everything can be solved.  His relationship with his father is delightfully complex, and sad.  It highlights the way a lot of parents feel with their children - out of touch, out of date, and hopelessly confused.  I didn't mind the twist, either, that the 'pretty' girl has to put on glasses and tie her hair up in a ponytail to become what she was meant to be.  There's a little bit of a sinister undertone there, and not in the usual way of happy animated films, that it's better to be yourself than try to hide it - Sam is told that she can't hide who she is, and who she is, is only attractive to freaky, spike-haired weirdos.  Hmmm.

Add to that 'Baby' Brent, and you've got a whole different level of disturbing.  I might be reading too deeply into the film, but I get the feeling one of the writers has a pretty serious grudge against people who rest on the laurels from their youth, and never do anything constructive with their lives - an image not at all dispelled when Brent puts on the roast chicken suit and essentially becomes a linebacker.  Your prejudices are all too clear now, dear writer, and a little too sharp.  The comparison between the high-school science geek and the football player isn't lost on me.  I merely think, in a world where we never see a mention of high school, or any school beyond elementary, it doesn't fit in.  Schoolday melodrama in my animated fantasy setting just doesn't do it for me, the same way I didn't like the Futurama episode about the Eyephone.  Stick to what you're doing, and be proud.  Don't try to dumb it down or add more 'sex or sentimentality', as Craig Kellem puts it.  Your story is already a lie.  Help people believe it, rather than rubbing the lie in their faces.

Then again, one of the main reasons I didn't like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs may have something to do with the following sequence of images :

Yes, that's a roast chicken.  Yes, those are bones sticking out of the bottom of its legs.  Yes, they don't have heads.  Yes, Brent acts like an Alien chestburster.  Yes, that's his diaper - his one and only item of clothing apart from the chicken suit - that Brent drops on the ground in the second last shot.  Tell me what part of this isn't disgusting?

At its heart, the movie is about improving the world with idealism and rubber-band inventions that no one believes will work.  In its execution, it brings about a whole new level of disturbing.  I wish I had liked the movie more.  I was disappointed by the strange and unwelcome ending.  It seemed to me like a whole bunch of people got drunk one night and said, "Hey, you know what'd be really, really funny?  Roast chicken suits!  It'll have them rolling in the aisles!" and they moderated the script and didn't remember until they got the finished product back from the animators, then they were too far over budget and too embarrassed to change it.  I don't know a world in which possessing the undead, cooked corpse of a giant-sized, once-alive food item isn't creepy as all hell.  Maybe it's the same world in which this is an acceptable thing to show children : 

"Your ears you keep, and I'll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, "Dear God, what is that thing?" will echo in your perfect ears. That is what "to the pain" means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever."

The dark age of children's cinema has begun.

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