In the late ’70s, kids went crazy over the imaginative story of how people in the small town of Chewandswallow live just like anyone else except that they eat whatever falls from the sky. The townspeople delighted in the pancakes, hamburgers and mashed potatoes that rained down on them, but when the weather delivered too many portions of their favorite treats, they feared for their lives and had to act quickly to save their homes. The children’s book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs became an instant success and classic with its colorful illustrations and animated detail.
The timeless tale is hitting theaters on September 18 and ComingSoon.net got a sneak peak at the Sony Pictures 3-D comedy. We met up with the directors of the film, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, at Sony Pictures Animation for a special presentation and listened as they excitedly talked to us about the project. The two are college friends and work together on “How I Met Your Mother” as writers. This is their directorial debut for a feature film.
Sam Sparks, voiced by Anna Faris, is a weather girl trying to make a name for herself. “She has a deep dark secret that she has a nerdy interior that she doesn’t tell anyone about,” Chris Miller said.
Her love interest is Flint, who is played by Bill Hader. “Flint thinks she looks okay when she’s all glamed up, but he’s like, ‘Well you might look better if you put these on,'” Miller told us. An after picture of her makeover was shown and Flint apparently likes her with little makeup, glasses, hair pulled back and dressed down (Watch This Scene!).
Flint is an inventor or so he likes to think. He’s tried to create many different contraptions and every time they go horribly wrong which makes the townspeople upset and causes them problems.
An example of one his inventions gone wrong is the rat-bird. “He was trying to test out human flight on rats and they got away and they bred and now they’re all over the town reeking havoc,” Phil Lord said.
“Andy Samberg plays the most appalling character in the entire world,” Lord laughed. He’s a town celebrity because he posed for a sardine company when he was little and that’s all he’s ever done.
Neil Patrick Harris plays Steve. He’s a monkey that Flint invented. He’s a thought translator, “but he basically only says his own name and that he’s hungry or tired,” Miller said. “The idea there was more or less to take a typical Disney animal sidekick who is wisecracking and take a different choice. Do the real version of it, so our direction to the animators was make him a wild animal at all times. He doesn’t really understand what’s going on. He’s just kind of scratching himself and looking around,” Miller continued.
Mr. T is Earl, the local cop. “He is another hero of ours,” Miller stated. “He’s super awesome,” Lord added. “When the casting director Mary Hidalgo suggested him for this role we immediately re-wrote the entire thing for him. We were like absolutely! That’s an amazing idea.”
Another great character in the film is the mayor, who is voiced by Bruce Campbell. “He’s kind of based on the mayor from ‘Jaws,'” Miller told us. “His outfit is heavily ‘Jaws’ influenced,” Lord laughed. “He has sort of the same role of the mayor in ‘Jaws.’ He doesn’t want to stop this food phenomenon because of the tourism and [it was] turning the town around. He ends up being a villain for the movie and he also embraces the food wholeheartedly and becomes super, super fat,” Miller said.
We were shown a clip of what the character looked like and he was so obese that he lost use of his limbs and had to drive around in a cart. He gets so big that he uses his stomach to steer it.
A Little More About the Story:
The town is having a food shortage. They only have sardines to eat so Flint decides he wants to do something about it. He wants to help, but since all of his inventions have created so many problems and he’s essentially an outcast as a result, there is pressure for him to get this one right, but of course that doesn’t happen. So when he makes the food replicater that’s essentially made from a colander and a microwave in hopes that food will be made from water, it works but not as he planned.
How the Film Came About:
Q: How did you get approached for the project?
Miller: We actually came in to meet on another project that they were interested in us writing, but then they saw we had the rights to this book and it was both mine and Phil’s favorite book growing up so we basically ignored the other project and grabbed them by their lapels and made them let us do this.
Lord: That was back in 2003.
Miller: From there we basically pitched them the overall take on the movie which was what if you did it as a big summer action comedy spectacular? We wrote a treatment and a script. We were in our sitcom world–writing on “How I Met Your Mother”–and they called and said, “Would you guys consider directing it?” and we were like,We were really comfortable doing this job. We knew how to do in sitcom world, but we finally decided to take the plunge and literally from one day to the next we were on “How I Met Your Mother” and then we’re here in this room with 50 animators, storyboard artists, visual development artists going, “so what do you guys want to do? What’s your direction for the movie?” We were like that’s weird we thought we’d meet with you guys and figure that out. It was a big leap to direct a movie and thank God we had tons of amazing support and great artists.
Q: What came most easily and what was difficult?
Lord: We directed a show called “Clone High” that we made long ago on MTV and the difference between doing a very-inexpensive cable cel-animated show and working with live-action TV is really different because they’re both very disposable and you’ve got to set stuff done super fast and this is a much bigger, larger enterprise. But you have a lot more tools to work with: you can put the camera anywhere you want and move it around wherever you want, but you have to figure out when to do that and when it’s just gratuitous.
Miller: A lot of the same things apply. There’s still timing and comedy and storytelling and they’re all basically the same, but you just have an incredible amount of resources and you’re working with so many other great artists. I would say the biggest [difference] is that you have a lot more collaborators; I don’t know if that was a challenge but it was a big difference.
Lord: On “Clone High” we basically edited it, we did a lot of the storyboards and basically a ton of the work; we had a lot of good, really talented crew people also but it was much more of a shoebox type of operation.
Miller: Here’s there’s somebody that does every single thing that we do way better than us, so you’ve got this great opportunity to get input from people who are experts in their field and it just makes your work tons better.
Q: How challenging was it to direct a cast in an animated film because usually there isn’t much interaction between the actors?
Lord: From time to time there is. The two of them obviously have a lot of scenes together (Anna Faris and Bill Hader) so we brought them in for a couple of days and put them in the same booth with glass in between them so we could isolate their voices on the track.
Miller: They were able to ad lib off each other. One of the other main relationships was Flint and his dad Tim, who was played by James Caan. He’s this blue collar tackle shop owner who doesn’t understand his weird son. Part of the climax of the movie is in order to save the world part of the thing Flint has to do is have his dad go to his computer and email a file to his cell phone. His dad has never used a computer before so he has to talk him through sending an email over the phone while he’s in a very dangerous situation. Bill was in NYC and James was here in LA and we had them talking over the phone. They would go back and forth and ad lib a bunch of stuff together.
Lord: It was life imitating art.
Q: How difficult is it to decide where to stay faithful to the source material and where to allow improvisation?
Lord: In every animation every part of the process makes the previous process obsolete. You start off with this script and you’re like great this script is perfect and then you start storyboarding and you’re like nope that doesn’t work at all. The storyboard artist starts contributing ideas and you have a team of 10-15 people that are all beating stuff up. It kind of evolves and if you do it right it gets better each time. You go to the editing bay and cut that together so if you’re open to it you can make your movie much better all the way through the process. Then forget when the animators come in – they have their own ideas about how to interpret this stuff. Because we’re young guys and because we haven’t done this before I don’t think we would have succeeded if we came in and tried to be dictators and force people to do it exactly how we want it. I think our approach was we’re new to this world, let’s be incredibly collaborative and be open to other people’s ideas. We had a really creative happy crew here that I think gave a lot more to this movie than they would have if we hadn’t done that.
Miller: And the book is really very short. It doesn’t have a whole lot of characters. It’s a very simple plot and it luckily works well in a movie structure – sort of like the “Jurassic Park” plot. It was like wouldn’t it be neat if there were dinosaurs? Yeah wow that’d be really neat. Oh wait that would be really bad and dangerous and horrible. Let’s get out of here. That’s basically the plot.
Lord: And that was embedded in the book from the get go.
Miller: There isn’t an emotional arc or characters that you’re following that you care about. It was actually kind of exciting to be able to make all that stuff up from scratch while trying to keep as many memorable visual moments in the book. We even tried to cut in little Easter eggs – little details of things that are in the backgrounds of shots in the book so people who are super fans would notice.
Q: Was it always your idea to do the movie in 3-D even though you didn’t really have any experience with animation?
Lord: “You guys it’s going to be so awesome.” That was our argument.
Miller: We were like if there’s any movie that should be in 3-D it should be the food falling from the sky movie.
The Scenes Shown:
Sneak Peak # 1 – Sam Sparks is trying to make it big as a weather girl and her first on air gig was ruined when Flint’s machine shoots through the clouds during her broadcast. An angry mob of people are looking for him and he’s hiding on the stairs with Steve (the monkey) under the pier. Sam is so upset she takes a walk to calm down and runs into him. She doesn’t realize at first he’s the one who screwed up her shot. She seems impressed by his weird inventions – spray paint shoes and the thought translator monkey. She knows more about how they were created than what she pretends, but he can see right through her act. He falls for her in a matter of seconds. She soon realizes he’s the one who was riding the “homemade rocket” as she called it and yells at him. In the middle of her rant the clouds start to darken and soon start raining hamburgers. They’re both excited by what’s happened and he reminds her she’s a weather girl. She runs off in hopes of getting a second chance on the air.
Sneak Peak # 2 – The town is overjoyed by Flint’s food machine and now embraces him back into the community. The invention isn’t quite what Flint envisioned, but he pretends it is so he can continue to be liked. It’s snowing ice cream and everyone is having snowball fights. Kids want him to play, but he admits he’s never thrown a snowball before. Sam laughs and shows him how. He goes a little overboard as usual and hits everyone–women, the elderly, and kids–in the face hard with snowballs. He’s having a great time and loves watching everyone enjoy what he’s created.
Sneak Peak # 3 – It won’t stop raining food and it’s become a problem. Now instead of a shortage there is too much and the townspeople are forced to evacuate. The dam that’s holding the overage of food is about to break and everyone is on their pieces of bread made into sailboats to get away. The mayor drives past everyone who hasn’t boarded yet to make an announcement, but only he doesn’t really have one. It was just a ploy to get ahead of others to make sure he would get out of the town. Earl the cop (Mr. T) is carrying his family to the water to grab a boat, but his son falls on the way. The dam breaks and the food floods the town. He’s in the middle of the path and he can’t get up. Earl gets him just in time and they race to the water.
Sneak Peak # 4 – Flint wants to do something nice for Sam because he has a crush on her so he surprises her with a jello mold since she mentioned once jello was her favorite. It’s so huge you can go inside which is really cool. There’s a pool, statues with her face, and stairs you can slide down. She’s overly impressed and they have a great time hanging out.
At the San Diego Comic-Con, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs will be presented at two different panels. On Thursday, the film is part of the “3D Showcase” at 12:45pm in Hall H and then will have its own panel at 2pm in room 6BCF.