I remember seeing the book in an elementary school library, but I don't think I ever read it. So I did what I usually do when I come up short on a piece of my childhood. I turned to youtube.
Ah youtube. Rarely fails.
Like most children's book the story is fairly short, rich in details, and simple featuring no main character. In the book, a grandfather tells a tale to his kids of a unique town called Chewandswallow and its odd weather. I think it's worth pointing out that the book frames the fantasy story as a fictional story.
Many years later we have a movie adaptation of the storybook. Aside from making the plot epic, creating a villian, and adding a love story (which movie adaptations tend to do) I'm always interested in how the writers adapt the core creative conceit of a book to film. The writers of the film took the book and used it like a menu. The man with a noodle on his head and the giant jell-o are just two details in the book that the film writers used in a minor way and a major way. But the main difference between the book and film versions is in the film the food weather is created by the main character Flint Lockwood's invention. The reason this seemingly small change is significant is because it shifts the core theme of the story from man vs nature to man vs man.
It's clever how the book carefully outlines the food-weather eco system of Chewandswallow. Food rains down, people eat up, people store food for later, and then the sanitation department cleans up the town while using the extra food to feed the local animals, sea creatures, and to fertilize the flower gardens. On the other hand, in the movie the food wasn't treated with a similar level of realism. It rained food, but instead of creating a system that fed back into the earth, there's a machine that simply flips the leftovers out of the city to pile up in a dam. While this "solution" is less creative it fits right in with the man vs. man theme. In other words, people create all kinds of short sighted, temporary solutions and enact them on a large scale. Furthermore, because Flint is in control of the food weather machine, the film could use the concept of "supply and demand" making that the people responsible for their disaster. When the towns people ignored the potential issues of larger food potions, I could only think of American and the dietary problems we face.
Though the film has a more versatile and strong creative conceit, it doesn't use the potential to craft a particularly tight story with great characterization. The writing heavily uses a sort of neo-internet style humor that I'm not particularly fond of. With jokes coming from out of nowhere and hyper exaggerated action (ex. Earl Devereaux the cop), it was too hard for the writers to also develop the relatable human side of the characters. On top of this, scenes seemed to be crafted to quickly usher the plot along while making a quick joke. In other words, there was little internal struggle for the characters and even less iintrospection that was externalized. Explaining things through dialog wast he preferred method.
The plot that is communicated is very reminiscent of Dreamworks' "How to Train Your Dragon." Take one part boy inventor, one part dead mother, one part father who doesn't understand son (or visa versa), one part girl who learns to see the value of the inventor's odd world, and one part epic showdown and you've got the mother sauce that both movies take after. Did you notice also that both films champion"nerd culture?" Dragons has a pacifist inventor for a main character (and a large D&D stats spouting nerd character) while Meatballs has an inventor main character with a highly intelligent weather girl for a perfect nerdy match. I'm simplifying some, but the similarities are more than uncanny. While How to Train Your Dragon took its time to really develop its main character and world scene by scene with externalized introspection, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs opts for the laugh.
Fortunately, the movie is hilarious. In general the film is light hearted, goofy, and packed with the neo-internet style comedy. Like the book, the film is filled with quirky food-weather scenarios and clever puns. The film is rounded out with running gags, visual jokes, and some dark humor sprinkled in like when Flint "kills" an unsuspecting family with snowball shots. Though sentient food and a massive meatball in the sky is a bit of a stretch in my opinion, the film overall is very well composed. Compared to the final action scenes in Iron Man 2 or Sherlock Holmes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs action makes and takes the cake. 3D animated films have an easier time creating exciting and seamless action scenes. Remember the opening scene in Bolt? It's getting harder and harder for live action movies to keep up in the action department.
The character design of most of the characters is decent to good. Instead of going for the more anatomically correct design, the characters in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs have big heads, big eyes, and modeling clay limbs. I must say that I have a problem with Sam Sparks. Her eyes are just too big compared to the rest of the characters. Technically speaking, the film is very clean with special effects (sparks, lighting, and smoke) that are top notch. My final gripe is that this fairly enjoyable film and The Princess and the Frog (a highly disappointing film) edged out Ponyo for a nomination slot in the last Oscars. I'm not sure what happened behind the scenes to make for this to happen, but I'm not happy about it.