You’ve probably heard of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs before. Not because of this fall’s film, but because of the classic children’s book on which the film is based. The book, written by Judi and Ron Barrett, doesn’t seem like the obvious choice for a film adaptation, due partially to its short length. But Chris Miller and Phil Lord were up to the challenge. As directors and screenwriters of Cloudy, they’ve expanded the original plot, providing a backstory for the town of Chewandswallow, but have made sure to stay true to the spirit of the original book.
The animated film will be released on September 18, and is one of an increasing amount of films that is being released in 3-D. They took the time to answer some of MovieMaker’s questions, letting us know about the future of moviemaking, staying true to their source material and how Cloudy is really just like… Jurassic Park?
Rebecca Pahle (MM): Much has been made recently about how the future of cinema is in 3-D. Why did you choose to have Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs be 3-D, and do you think that non-3-D films will still have a place in the film industry in the years to come?
Phil Lord (PL): Of course I think non-3-D films will have a place in the film industry in years to come. Just like Nickelodeon and magic lanterns still have a place in the film industry. Kidding!
Chris Miller (CM): In the coming years, a lot of the big blockbusters will be in 3-D, but we doubt anyone would want to see Julie & Julia in 3-D.
PL: Now that you’ve said that I kind of wish they’d made Julie & Julia in 3-D.
CM: Right. Now I’m trying to think of a movie that would not be improved by 3-D… Ah. Bruno.
MM: What are the things you have to consider when creating a 3-D film that you wouldn’t have to necessarily pay so much attention to with a film that’s not 3-D?
CM: Everything from editing to sound mixing changes, because your eye pays attention to different things in the 3-D version. It affected all our compositions.
PL: Not only do you have to think about composition pictorially, you have to think about it from a depth standpoint. You want to have elements all the way from front to back to really exploit the 3-D effect.
CM: When the sky is filled with raining cheeseburgers it provides your eye with a lot of depth cues. And when there’s a giant hot dog coming towards your face, you certainly don’t miss it in 3-D.
MM: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has been a book beloved by children and adults for many years. How concerned are you with “getting it right” and pleasing the fans?
PL: We were very concerned with “getting it right.” Growing up, the book was a favorite for both of us and was a big influence on us. It was clear we were going to have to expand the story, so we worked hard to do so in a way that was consistent with the weird, wonderful tone of the book.
CM: For example: One of the illustrations in the book shows a guy with a huge macaroni stuck on his head. This cracked us up so much we put him in scene after scene in the background, always looking the wrong direction. We packed it with similar references to the book. Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, the author and illustrator, both love the movie so we know we pleased our most important critics.
MM: Some children’s movies really please their intended audience, but it must be more difficult to make sure that parents enjoy the movie as much as their kids do. How do you go about making sure a kid’s movie has more universal appeal?
PL: We try to never ever talk down to kids. We grew up on Looney Tunes and Muppets. They weren’t trying to make kid’s stuff. Rather than sneak a bunch of adult jokes into a kids film, we tried to make a great movie that we would enjoy and just left out the curse words.
CM: We packed the cast full of our comedy friends and heroes, including Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Mr. T and Bruce Campbell. And believe it or not, they don’t need to be raunchy to be funny. Besides, sex jokes are too easy. Especially in a movie where, as we said before, there’s a giant hot dog coming towards your face.
MM: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a short book that you’ve adapted into a feature-length film; what kind of creative liberties did you have to take to ensure that it would translate to the big screen?
CM: What’s great about the book is that it is full of images an audience has never experienced, like being deluged with giant spaghetti. And in a movie that will be seen in 3-D, we knew we had to push the spectacle even farther. The book has this gorgeous illustration of a sunset refracting through a giant Jell-O mold, so we set a scene there and decided, ‘Why not go in the Jell-O and experience it from the inside, like a giant edible bounce house?’
PL: We tried to expand the book to include the origins of the town of Chewandswallow, and tried to create characters you would really care about; all while ridiculous things are happening, such as pickles that smash into buildings. As for the story, the book is mostly a thought experiment: Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a place with food weather?! Yes, it’d be pretty awesome, but it would pose some logistical issues, and could get out of control quite easily. In fact, it could get very dangerous and not cool at all. Replace “food weather” with “living dinosaurs” and you have the plot of Jurassic Park.