Hi all, and welcome back to Voyage of the Mind, Movie Madness Monday edition. This “review” is completely different from the last one, but sort of similar to the write-up I did about Disney’s 2015 flop Tomorrowland. This past week, I watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, a kid’s movie, for fun — and found that it contains some very grown-up insights.
1: The death of American industry hurt a lot of people.
In Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, the main character, Flint Lockwood, lives in a town called Swallow Falls. Initially, Swallow Falls runs off the profits of a single industry — sardine canning. But when sardine canning goes bust, everything goes bust, and the citizens of Swallow Falls can only afford to eat — you guessed it — sardines.
The loss of industry in Swallow Falls reminds me of what happened to American industry in the 1990s and 2000s, when manufacturing jobs plummeted and millions of American workers found themselves without work. The downtrodden looks are the same, the hopelessness. The loss of industrial jobs in shoe factories, textiles, and, yes, sardine packing hits hard. It inflicts a blow to people’s livelihoods but also to their futures and the futures of their families. It traps people in areas where there is no work, because they don’t have the money to pick up and move or the requisite degrees to secure work that would be able to sustain their families.
The loss of industry is especially brutal because it can seem to come out of nowhere. One day, a factory may employ three thousand workers. The next day, it may close down and pack up and say it’s going overseas, where labor is cheaper. And without notice, three thousand workers are out of work and scrambling.
2: Politicians take advantage of science.
In the film, the mayor of Swallow Falls is a truly despicable man. After Flint Lockwood invents a machine that transforms water into food (yeah, let’s just say this one belongs in the realm of soft science fiction… more like fantasy), the mayor pressures him to turn it into a way to propel the town out of the doldrums.
Under the mayor’s guidance, Swallow Falls becomes “Chew and Swallow,” a resort town themed around the food that falls three times daily from the sky, like manna from heaven. Flint Lockwood inputs menus into the machine. But the food is getting closer and closer to “mutating” — and starts becoming bigger and bigger. “Bigger is better,” the mayor tells Flint.
Maybe Flint should have remembered my favorite quote from Ecclesiastes — “He who increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” But the mayor promises him fame and popularity, things he’s always lacked as the town’s failed scientist. More than that, his inventions have caused disaster after disaster — at last, this is a success! Flint keeps inputting menus. The food keeps getting bigger. The mayor has effectively strong-armed science. Eventually, the food even becomes sentient.
And, as always, it’s up to science — not politicians — to save the day.
3: Gender expectations are a thing.
At the same time Flint Lockwood achieves his big success, a journalist named Sam Sparks arrives in Swallow Falls, ostensibly to cover the opening of “Sardine Land.” What’s Sardine Land? You’ll have to watch the film to find out. She ends up covering a much bigger story, that of food falling from the skies.
Somewhere along the line, Flint and Sam start getting close — and she reveals to him her biggest secret. When she was a child, she was a…. nerd. Everyone made fun of her, which is why she started wearing her hair down — instead of in a ponytail — and ditched her glasses, even though she needs them to see. Flint thinks she’s beautiful just the way she is and urges her to broadcast the news with her glasses and her ponytail.
But as she comes onscreen, the New York reporter she’s calling in to starts deriding her appearance. “Uh, Sam, you look like a… Let’s hope Sam looks a little more presentable in a moment, viewers.”
It’s 2020. But gender expectations are a thing. And they may always be. Some gender expectations aren’t terrible, as long as you remember that when someone says “Women are like this,” they mean women on average, not all women. But other gender expectations are hurtful. It’s become acceptable for men to “dress down” even in the office, but women are often expected to get dolled up, wear skirts or at least tailored pantsuits, and apply makeup. And they face the judgment of their peers if they look too relaxed or even too business-casual.
Luckily, the COVID-19 pandemic crisis seems to have changed a lot about business attire. There’s even that guy who was caught on Zoom not wearing pants. Youch. That’s one expectation that won’t be changing for a while (we hope).
4: Fame turns you into someone you’re not.
Midway through Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, we’re pretty sure Flint Lockwood isn’t the same guy who popped up on the screen in the beginning of the movie. He’s become famous. Everyone loves him. And his goofball personality has taken a turn for the worse.
Sound familiar? Some people — not all — who are perfectly decent human beings before they become famous morph before our eyes when they do, becoming hideous reflections of their past selves. All of their flaws appear all the more clear. They do stupid things and say stupid things. They become an anti-self.
There must be a way to avoid becoming lost in the limelight. Some celebrities have figured it out. Take Keanu Reeves, for example. The guy still rides the subway!
Human beings have known for a long time that fame often has an adverse or corrupting effect on a person. This was a big deal in ancient Rome! And we should make it a big deal today, if we care about the continuation of our society and way of life. Scientists, politicians, entrepreneurs, and movie stars alike should stay humble first and live it up second.
5: Love is real.
At the end of the film, Flint and Sam get together — happily ever after — but more importantly, Flint’s father finally tells Flint that he loves him and is proud of him. Flint’s dad is the sort of guy who mumbles a lot, hides his eyes in his eyebrows, and mostly communicates with his son through “fishing metaphors.” But at last, at first with the aid of the “monkey thought translator” device — one of Flint’s less successful inventions — he’s able to convey his true feelings to his son. The “I love you” comes without the aid of the device!
Love is real, and love does make a difference. A number of kid’s movies hold this message. Fewer grown-up movies do. I know it’s harder for jaded adults who’ve been through their fair share of heartbreaks and disappointments to believe in love, but I hope you will. I hope you’ll keep a piece of your inner child close to your heart. I hope you’ll keep believing in love and the power of love. Love can create — and love can fix what we’ve created when it goes wrong. As long as we keep believing that, we’re golden.
Runner-up: The obesity epidemic…
Not to end on a sour note, but I would say that the whole of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a thinly-veiled allegory about the American obesity epidemic. The mayor, in this case, represents not only the power-hungry politician but also the obese American. And why are many Americans obese? Certainly not because they want to be, but in part due to the mechanization of agriculture and food production in this country. Flint’s magical food machine represents that mechanization, and the exponential growth of the mayor’s waistline represents the result.
Even if you’re a grown-up (which I’m guessing you are), give this film a watch. You might find even more buried messages. Better yet if you have kids to share it with!
Enjoy this post?
Read more movie reviews.
Try these ones out:
- Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
- Tomorrowland (Disney, 2015) — a must-read for you if you enjoyed this post!
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I’d love to hear your voice! Tell me what you think about Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, if you’ve watched it. Or bring up a new talking point. Ball’s in your court!