Inventor Flint Lockwood and friends encounter the wild foodimals of Chewandswallow Island. Sony Pictures
Parents with young children can tell you that the most precious thing on the planet isn't gold or diamonds. It's the animated family film that kids can enjoy and grown-ups can endure. For reasons no adult really understands, kids love to watch their favorite animated movies over and over. And over. That means when the movies cycle to home video, parents watch them over and over, too.
As such, quality kids movies are a genuine commodity for the whole family. "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2," opening today in theaters, is the kind of film that can keep both parents and kids enjoyably occupied. The film chronicles the continuing adventures of stalwart scientist and inventor Flint Lockwood, creator of the "Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator" (FLDSMDFR for short).
The movie is a lot of fun, with plenty of laughs and some genuinely inventive use of 3D visuals. It's also a film with decidedly pro-science subtexts for kids. Flint is a pure scientist at heart, and his gang of ragtag pals have a simple goal: to establish their own start-up laboratory and make gadgets to help all of mankind.
After a recent advance screening of the film in Los Angeles, co-directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn sat down with Discovery News to talk about pop culture, presenting science to kids, and the art of naming foodimals.
Flint and his pals explore the island. At right, a magnificent herd of wild scallions. Sony Pictures
Flint's signature creation, the FLDSMDFR, is designed to help people by turning water into food. But the machine went a bit haywire in the first film, causing giant hamburgers and torrents of spaghetti to fall from the sky. In the new film, the FLDSMDFR causes still more trouble by creating a kind of "Jurassic Park" island full of sentient food/animal hybrids like the watermelophant, the shrimpanzee and the dreaded tacodile.
Co-director Pearn, who headed up the story team on the first "Cloudy" film, said the animators incorporated quite a bit of biology when sketching out the hybrid foodimals. "One of the things we got excited about was that the food would evolve and not just move like people," Pearn said. "Like the eggplanatee moves through the water using laminar flow, with the little ripples. And the buffaloaf, that's buffalo and meatloaf, kind of slides across the terrain using grease and gravity."
Flint's pal Samantha stares down the dangerous, but delicious, Double Bacon Cheespider. Sony Pictures
As the filmmaking process progressed, the creative team even envisioned a taxonomy for all the foodimals on the island.
"We had food tribesman -- little pickles or strawberries or tomatoes -- and they're just themselves, just little fruits or vegetables," Cameron said. "Then we have our food/animal combinations, like the watermelophants and the hippotatomuses. Finally we have the fast food monsters like the cheespider or the tacodile. We would kind of classify them and ask, 'Is that a genus or a species?'"
Sam and Flint explore deeper into the island. Sony Pictures
The more the creative team dug into the story, the more detailed the notional universe of "Cloudy" became. The project took more than three years in total, which the filmmakers said gave everyone involved plenty of time to think through the internal logic of the story.
"For example, there's a kind of techno-organic element with the plant life, which has electricity running through it, because it's all coming out of the bottom of Flint's machine," Cameron said. "If you look carefully, you'll see the vines follow the pattern of wiring and they light up like the machine does. So it's kind of our own junk science."
"It's also kind of an abstract commentary on technology and evolution," Pearn added. "You know, Flint has created this machine that's become organic, that itself has become part of an ecosystem. That line starts to blur between what's technology and what's nature." Pearn paused and chuckled: "This is what happens when you have three years to think about things."
Official taxonomy image of the vicious and predatory tacodile. Sony Pictures
Pearn and Cameron, along with other members of the creative team, eventually came up with more than a hundred hybrid foodimals – including cucumbirds, flamangos, susheep and sasquash. Creature ideas usually started with a name.
"There's a term, portmanteau, where you mash two words together -- like smoke and fog, smog comes from that," Cameron said. "Craig Kellman, our character designer, went away one weekend and came up with about 100 of these."
Others pitched in and the design team pursued the animal/food combinations that had the most character potential. "We ran the process like a writers' room through all of the departments," Pearn said. "When you let 300 people know that you're looking for jokes, looking for puns, you get results. The shrimpanzee came from one of our storyboard artists. Once you start thinking them up, it's actually hard to stop."
Flint and friends soldiers on through a syrup bog infested with mosquitoasts. Sony Pictures
Cameron said there was never any attempt to give the film an overt agenda -- it really is just a kids' movie, at the end of the day. Still, pay attention and you might see threads of commentary buried deep in the very arc of the story. If you look for it, you may even find something to chew on, as it were, in regard to industrialized farming and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
But in terms of character and story, it's a science-positive movie all the way. "Certainly Flint as a character is very pro-science," Pearn said. "We can't claim to much actual understanding of how he makes what he makes, it's the silly world of a cartoon laboratory, but his heart is always in the right place."
"We were really into the idea that Flint is a backyard inventor who uses anything he can find in his junkyard to construct the most bizarre things," Cameron said. "One of Flint's statements from the first film was that he wanted to help people. For example, the spray-on shoes to help the untied shoelace epidemic. It was always about inventing something to make the world a better place. No matter how bizarre they were, the inventions were really to help out."