I didn’t see the original Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in theaters when it came out in 2009. I was in a weird place of thinking I was somehow above seeing films aimed at kids if I didn’t have to, and the whole “food falling from the sky” thing didn’t really grab my interest. But after hearing great word of mouth when it hit home video, I checked it out and discovered I was colossally wrong: Cloudy instantly became one of my favorite animated films of all time.
In addition to fantastic animation, excellent voice talent, and hilarious comedic moments, there’s a great big beating heart under all that oversized food. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller went on to direct 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie, but they created the general idea for the story of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and passed the directing reins off to Kris Pearn and Cody Cameron, two guys who served in the story department on the first film. Cloudy 2 hits theaters on September 27th, 2013, but the folks at Sony Pictures Animation invited me and a handful of other journalists to their Culver City campus earlier this week to take an early look at some footage and chat with the directors and cast of the film.
At the end of the first film (spoiler alert), Flint Lockwood (voice of Bill Hader) managed to not only stop his invention (the FLDSMDFR) from producing giant foods that fell from the sky, but he ended up getting together with spunky meteorologist Sam Sparks (voice of Anna Faris). This movie picks up literally 60 seconds after the first film ends, when Flint’s childhood hero, an eccentric inventor named Chester V (voice of Will Forte), shows up to offer Flint a job at his tech company Live Corp while Chester’s team cleans up the mess of Swallow Falls. As the film goes along, Sam and his father Tim (voice of James Caan) get sidelined, and one of the main sources of conflict stems from Flint’s inability to manage his old relationships and his new ones. But soon, Flint discovers that Swallow Falls is being overrun with “foodimals,” combinations of food and animals such as shrimpanzees, tacodiles, and watermelophants, and sets off to save his hometown.
Co-director Cody Cameron carved real bits of food into tiny creatures in his backyard during the early days of development on this project, which gave the character designers some unique ideas to work with. In all, they created about 180 different “foodimal” names, but only around 40 will make it into the final film. Producer Kirk Bodyfelt came in and showed us how to carve our own foodimals, and afterwards we sat down with the directors to chat about how this sequel will differ from the original.
Although the scope of this project seems much larger than the first Cloudy, I wondered how the directors were able to balance those setpieces and designs with the heart that made the first movie so great. Thankfully, Cameron responded with the right answer: “The characters are the most important thing.” Kris Pearn picked up that baton and ran with it:
Beyond the hook of knowing that we wanted to do a monster moving going into our second film, we also started thinking about, ‘What does Flint need to go through? What can we do to him?’ So the first film, he started it about eight years old, and maybe we take him to, emotionally, fourteen years old. Where he kisses a girl, starts to take responsibility for things. He’s still in the pre-pubescent phase, so this film we wanted to graduate him to high school. That was one of our touchstones. It’s like Flint’s journey, we wanted to take him out of being the only weird kid, put him in a bigger place, and what happens to that guy when he starts to be accepted and starts to find out who he is in a bigger world?
Cameron chimed back in: “How does he hold on to his old friends when he’s making these new friends?” With all of the crazy food puns and the insanely detailed character designs for all of these different creatures, I’d imagine it’d be pretty easy to get lost in the chaos of that, but these guys seem to have a good basis for how to keep the story relatable even in the presence of those elements. Pearn continued:
Graduation is a very common theme that every kid goes through, so we wanted to ground Flint that way. As we grounded him there, it allowed us to ripple through all the other characters. So like Tim’s relationship with his son – in the first film, he was not very communicative, he didn’t know how to relate with his son, but we popped that bottle in the first film – so now, he’s like always hugging his son and always with him. They’re in a one bedroom apartment in San Fran Jose, and Flint is trying to leave his dad behind because he’s trying to figure out his own way. We’re very careful to not make Flint unlikable, but that storyline, that separation…Tim ends up bonding with the product of Flint’s creativity: the pickles…certainly with Sam, [Flint] validated her by making her feel smart. So what happens in this film when he starts to treat her like a weather girl?
Sounds like Flint and Sam might experience a little romantic trouble even though the two of them JUST got together in the first place. From what we saw, it appeared as if Flint’s hero Chester V seems to have a hidden agenda, and he quietly tries to drive a wedge between Flint and Sam.
Originally, there was much more of the sentient food concept worked into the finale of the first Cloudy, but those sequences had to be cut due to time. Now that the duo is free to tell another story in a separate movie, what influences did they have when working on this film?
Cody: Jurassic Park is the big one, obviously, because we have a watering hole, and with the Richard Attenborough of Chester’s beard, and the Laura Dern outfit that Sam is wearing, but there are ’80s movies galore – whether we do exact jokes to or it’s just homage: Return of the Jedi, there’s some Goonies, a little bit of E.T., some Gremlins, there’s definitely some Teen Wolf in there. There’s kind of that Lucas and Spielberg of the ’80s that could go to Joe Dante or Richard Donner, all those movies that we grew up watching and loving.
Kris: When we started Cloudy 2, for the first two months we sat in a room and watched Irwin Allen movies from the ’70s and Roland Emmerich films from the ’90s, and so we’re trying to find a world in between those two. At the same time, we were watching Jaws and Jurassic Park and taking those cues, and we wanted to do some of that in the first film, but we just didn’t have room for it.
A world between Allen and Emmerich? Sounds like an interesting place to me.
The directors said they’re about 85% finished with the film and they showed us about twenty minutes of the nearly-finished piece, and I can happily report that everyone who dug the first one will likely enjoy this one as well. It’s tough to tell when watching footage out of context, of course, but the heart and humor appear to have carried over from Miller and Lord’s first movie.
Even in just those few minutes of footage, I laughed out loud a couple of times, including in a sequence when Flint first visits Live Corp, a company inside a giant light bulb off the coast of San Fran Jose, California. The company is full of open space and everyone’s constantly drinking caffeine while going to “inspiration stations” with videos of Chester V telling them their ideas can change the world (“Gently poking fun at the whole Google, northern Silicon Valley campus thing,” says Pearn).
Terry Crews takes over for Mr. T as “the alpha male’s alpha male” police officer character Earl, and his uber-manly mantras had me cracking up practically every time he spoke. During Chester V’s video presentation to Flint about what will happen if the foodimals escape Swallow Falls, he says “if they succeed and get to the mainland, they’ll destroy monuments all around the world”, parodying the way we only see news footage of aliens or monsters attacking iconic locations in disaster movies.
There’s also a great bit where Chester V reveals a device that can theoretically stop Flint’s FLDSMDFR, called a BS-USB; it stands for Bifurcating Systematic Universal Stop Button, but that abbreviation is the kind of subtle adult humor that will go over kids’ heads. I asked the directors if we could expect more of that subtlety throughout the film:
Pearn: Hopefully. A lot of the same story team is back. Chris and Phil were involved right at the beginning, so we had the same process. It’s always a challenge to try to find those layers of jokes.
Cameron: We do have puns that hit you over the head, but hopefully there are some more subtle ones, subtle comedy in there.
Pearn: And certainly the animators bring a lot to the table, too. They were a big part of what made the first film really funny. You tell 300 people you’re looking for jokes, and you get a lot of jokes.
But it isn’t just the nuts and bolts of the story that has these guys excited. They’ve also been working with their animation team on a new method for developing a different look for this film, too:
Kris: We wanted to figure out a way to make something look real when it’s close to the camera, but as it gets further away, it starts to feel like a painting. So the texture will reduce as we get farther away from the camera.
Cody: In fact it flattens out, much like a matte painting. So when the camera moves away from the object, it flattens out and becomes a painting so there’s less 1s and 0s to render. Then if you move forward, it becomes a 3D object again.
Sounds like it could be very cool, and a quicker way to deal with large scale animation projects like these. This could mean big business for studios, as the implication is it’ll take a lot less time to render these detailed environments and therefore they might be able to pump out more films per year.
After we spoke with the directors, we had a chance to talk to stars Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and Benjamin Bratt. The cast had a lot of affection for their new directors, with Hader describing their directing style “like kids brought in to run Disneyland.” They talked about how they’re still doing voice work for the film even though it’s set to come out in just a few months, how they’ve been working on this movie off and on for three years, and more. Mostly, my colleagues asked dumb questions involving the difference between acting in live action and animation, but this did bring up a story that I found pretty funny. Someone asked the trio which questions they get asked over and over again, and Hader replied with this little story:
The one we got last [time] for every junket was, ‘if any food could fall from the sky, which would it be?’ I was just like, ‘I don’t know what to say. So I just started to say the steam buns at Momofuku – this is funny – I said that just to see what they said. And then I went on the ‘Today Show’ and Kathie Lee Gifford said, ‘If any food could fall from the sky…’ and I said the steam buns from Momofuku. And she said, ‘I knew you were going to say that!’ and they brought them out. And I’m like, ‘OK, cool!’ And it comes with this crazy hot sauce. So Hoda and Kathie Lee are like, ‘We’re going to have them with you!’ and in my head I was like, ‘Mmmhmm, OK, you go first!’ (Smiling devilishly.) If you guys want to YouTube it, this is what they do: [acts out them taking a bite, and then spazzing out at how hot the sauce is]. They go to commercial and Kathie Lee was like, ‘I burned my mouth!’…it made me really happy. Sometimes those dumb questions can lead to great moments, like Kathie Lee Gifford burning her mouth.
And since this is a press junket and I’m pretty sure one of these things can’t legally end until someone asks the talent about appearing in another sequel, someone (sigh) asked the talent if they would appear in another sequel.
Anna: Oh yeah, I would [come back for a third film] in a heartbeat. I love playing Sam…I think my favorite part is seeing the end product. Unlike a [live action film], you feel a little more in touch with everything. You realize that we are such a small part of the process. The voice is huge, of course, but technically we are really a small part of the process.
Bill: There’s so much else that makes these movies great.
Anna: Seeing the first one, I was like, ‘holy shit, that’s what we’ve been doing?! Oh my God!’
Bill: You don’t know, really, until you sit in a theater and experience it.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 hits theaters on September 27th, 2013.
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