Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hot for CLOUDY

I saw CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS today and really enjoyed it. My 10 year old was also in attendance and he gave it a thumbs up, which is not always the case. My congratulations to the filmmakers for pulling off a very difficult task.

From what I know (which is far from everything) this movie went through the all-too typical bloodbath of hired and fired crews and directors before it found its way to the screen. Many who got burned during prior iterations were friends and colleagues of mine, which is a genuine shame. At one point early on even yours truly was invited to be considered to direct it, (they were probably kidding) and after a quick look at the book I practically ran out of the room shaking my head "NO!" It just seemed, as I told people at the time, that there was no story of any kind there: short, long, animated or otherwise. To me the book had the feel of something a particularly boring adult would find 'Imaginative': "Just think, children, if giant food fell from the sky one day!" To that adult I would say: "You know what else is funny? Big foam hats. Think about it: one day everybody wakes up wearing big foam hats! The president, Tyra Banks, Kofi Annan... C'mon--it's funny!..." Anyway, in a word: ugh.

None of the studio ideas that were on the table for getting around the book's inherent problems seemed promising to me, in fact they made it worse. Happily, the finished film's writer-director team (Phil Lord & Chris Miller) came up with a solution that tends to be so radical in the world of animation that it is usually rejected out of hand, or at best turned to only after everything else has failed, as a matter of dire last resort:

They allowed it to be a cartoon.

Because it is ultimately impossible to make the woefully dumb premise credible any other way. So at the concept level, they simply let it unfold in a cartoon town, on a cartoon island, in a cartoon world not unlike the ones in which many of the old Rankin/Bass or Jay Ward classics unfold. Somehow, just as radical: the cartoony sensibility (heaven forbid) even translates to cartoony visuals, which is a 2 for 2 situation that I have found rare. It is amazing how often I have heard this uniquely ubiquitous executive zen koan: "Well this is such a cartoony idea, we have to make it look realistic so that the cartooniness will be believable"...at which point my mind turns back to thinking about foam hats again.

Happily, that somehow didn't happen here: the characters are just about the cartooniest CG ones I have yet seen , and in a kind of 1970's Paul Coker MAD Magazine way: like those very rare very graphic 2D designs that somehow all get sculpted and articulated correctly. It's a genuine breakthrough and I hope it becomes a trend. God knows the Muppets and Rankin/Bass did it well over 40 years ago, so it can be done, even with pixels, as these guys have proved. After this, people won't be able to say: "Well, you can't do hair (or fingers, or eyes, or mouths etc) that way in CGI..." with the same conviction, even tho they probably will try...

As for the story, yeah it has all the familiar usual story beats studios have been programmed to demand and audiences have been hard-wired to expect, but it does the dual trick of servicing the beats legitimately on one level and using them just as an excuse for being funny on another. In addition, a lot of detailed care has been taken to make many of the throw-away visuals funnier than some movies' main jokes: a deliberately cheap TV ad with awful bluescreen effects and graphics, a recurring poster for a stage show called "FIVE GUYS WITH UMBRELLAS" and a graphic sensibility that is skillfully cribbed from the late 1970's and early 80's. A number of the situations, such as the hero phoning his roughneck dad to simply log on and email him a vital climax-clinching line of code, a binge-eating villain, a hopelessly clueless home-town has-been, and a reverse ugly duckling story for the female lead are especially clever.

Nice work, everybody. My next step is devouring the "making-of" book, as my way of coming back for seconds.

12 comments:

ThomasHjorthaab said...

Hey Will!:)

If you got the time, I would appreciate some critique on some of my newest creations:)

http://thomashjorthaab-sykkostuff.blogspot.com/

Cheers!

Thomas

ThomasHjorthaab said...

Thanks Will!

Yea I think it's very important to get critique from more than just one in the buisness, cause, everyone has his/her own journey to the finished drawing...
But still principles are very important, after I got into the whole construction part, I just can't help pushing the pause button when a interesting pose shows up in the old WB cartoons!

Not drawing everytime, just studying, draw it in my mind:)

Thanks alot for your critique man!

ps. Still looking forward to see some cocksworth drawings:D

Cheers
- Thomas

Marcos Gp said...

Great review,

Phill & Crhis did a great job for finding the theme of the movie and make it awesome!

Mike Caracappa said...

If you don't mind me asking, did you see it in 3D? If so, did you think it was any good?

Will Finn said...

No, but I may go back and do so...

Owen Williams said...

Excellent review, I look forward to see this film when it arrives in the UK

Bob and Rob Professional American Writers said...

Totally unrelated...Don't ask me why, but I was just watching the bonus features on Aladdin and saw you on the big reunion show! Great job! What a nice surprise. Hope you're well, Bob

Stephen Worth said...

I'm afraid that I didn't like the film as much as you. I lasted about an hour until the constant dialogue and complete lack of pacing drove me out of the theater with a headache. The 3D might have had something to do with that too. There was a complete lack of sincerity to the humor that irritated me, and the overly busy scenes left me scrambling for where to look. I kept catching action at the corner of the frame that I was supposed to be seeing, but with the lack of focus to the compositions and movement, and the 3D made it so I couldn't keep up. By the time I could see the scene, there was a scene cut and I was scrambling again. Tiresome to watch. I felt like my dad must have felt watching a rock video. Perhaps I am just an old man.

Will Finn said...

Hey Steve, some young guys I work with hated it, so you're not alone and old...

I always value honest dissent so no problems there.

I did not see it in 3D, but as for the manic quality of it, having been raised on sincerity-free Marx Bros movies (the good ones anyway), the sheer jokey-ness of it appealed to me and if anything, I thought it could have been a little less earnest.

And the character animation blew me away.

Also glad that a few good big-nosed, bug eyed humans with grotesque proportions made it to the screen intact. And in CGI no less. That's a miracle I would like to see become a trend!

Owen Williams said...

I saw it last week and absolutely loved it. For me it wasn't dis-similar to The Emporers' New Groove in the manic bizareness of it all. Highly enjoyable!

Amir Avni said...

I thought this movie was great! I love the fact it was genuinely a cartoon! And how well they translated the graphic designs to 3d models, the movement follows the designs so well!

warren said...

Hey Will,

You just nailed my whole hangup about features and the decisions behind their aesthetics with this post. Thanks! Couldn't have said it better.

Sometimes I wonder if the people making animated movies realize that there is a danger of creating them as if they were a genre rather than a medium. Going from Cloudy to 9 really gave me a breath of fresh air. Hopefully this one month of diversity in the theatres is a sign of things to come.