By Tom Snyder, Editor
Movieguide® got the opportunity for an exclusive interview with Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, the directors and co-creators of Sony Picture Animation’s new movie, CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2.
CLOUDY 2 is a feast of fun for everyone that extols true friendship, honesty, sticking by good friends, helping good friends avoid bad people and do the right thing.
In the story, young inventor Flint Lockwood and his friends have saved the world from Flint’s out-of-control food machine. Flint’s childhood hero, Chester V, sends a team to clean up the mess in Flint’s hometown. He offers Flint a job at his company in San Franjose. Everything changes when it appears Flint’s food machine has survived and is creating huge, monstrous food-animals – foodimals! Only Flint can shut down the machine before the foodimals attack the mainland. Chester V sends Flint on a secret mission to do just that. However, Flint’s idol, Chester V, has an ulterior motive!
Movieguide®: How did the idea for the sequel and the story develop?
Kris: Both of us worked on the first film. We did have a version of that movie that had a whole monster ending. There’s a certain amount of that we left in at the end, like the [monster] gummy bears and [monster] chickens. Part of our desire to do the [new] movie was to scratch that itch. To take the disaster movie and flip the genre, and put our characters into a different sort of movie. That was on the table when we first started to talk [about the sequel]. The fun side of it was to have [the hero] graduating and go to a place where everybody has a lab coat was really interesting. And, once again, we did have a version of CLOUDY one, where he met one of his heroes. . . . So, coming back into this movie, there was a bit of that story we hadn’t developed. So, when we first started talking, we had a lot of stuff on the table that gave us a foothold. It very quickly went its own direction: Food is people too.
Cody: It’s supposed to be said incorrectly, like “food ARE people too.” I think you said that at Comic-Con and someone corrected the English – “No, no. Food IS people.”
Kris: Cody came up with the idea of foodbulls.
Cody: Then, you were talking about strawberries. . .
Kirs: Little tribes of sweet versus savory. Then, you [Cody] went away one weekend and developed this food sculpture, and that became really fun to just sort of grab on to.
Cody: It was important to show what food might look like in a natural environment.
Movieguide®: How did you develop the characters, their character arcs, and the themes in the movie? What lessons did you want to impart?
Cody: We talked about Flint graduating.
Kris: We went back to the movies of our childhood, like TEEN WOLF, CAN’T BUY ME LOVE. What happens to the nerdy, awkward kid when they become cool? And, how do you go through that change and still maintain who you are as a person and the people who love you for you? That idea of graduating Flint and taking him [metaphorically] into [college] became an engine for his arc and his story. He starts to become like Chester, and how that compromises who he really is. The whole movie, he’s chasing himself, he’s trying to destroy his greatest idea, and he’s kind of destroying himself, for the sake of a corporation. All of us working in animation can sometimes relate [to that]. So, here’s something that everybody has to go through, whether you’re good at football, or art, or whatever your vocational passion is. How do you see yourself as you go through life?
Cody: Also, like, when you’re in school, maybe you’re the one guy at high school that drew, but then, you’re going to college where everyone draws. Flint’s not the only backyard inventor. Now, he’s working in a sea of backyard inventors.
Movieguide®: There are things continued from the first movie in this movie. In the first movie, there was the relationship with his father. Flint also found friends in the first movie. In this movie, he has problems with his friends.
Kris: We’ve all gone through the experience [where] you get the girl, [but] now you have to keep the girl. That’s a life lesson, isn’t it?
Cody: What happens when you leave your hometown, and you make new friends, but then your new friends and your old friends get together? How do you deal with that situation?
Kris: With Tim [Flint’s father], he became the emotional “A” story in the first film. He’s already communicated with his son. Now that they have this relationship, he’s kind of irritating because he’s always hugging his son. He’s big. He sits on the bed and breaks it. He’s like a giant St. Bernard in this small urban apartment. His journey is really connecting with his grandkids. While he’s accepted Flint for who he is, it’s not until he meets these pickles who like to do the things he likes to do that he really starts to kind of be himself again.
Cody: The desire for fishing skips a generation.
Kris: So, it’s a bit of a maturing of their relationship too. He doesn’t have to be around all the time, hugging him [Flint] and patting him, because he’s got other interests. For all of our small town characters, the idea of coming home was a big theme. What is home? And, the idea that all these “people” are living on their home and, by the end of the movie, they accept them. They start to embrace this change of community. In our case, it was like a food-human society at the end. We wanted to kind of do that. Really, that’s why it’s Sam, Irwin, Manny who accept the island with the food animals first. They start to see how amazing this place is and say, “We shouldn’t shut off [Flint’s] machine.”
Movieguide®: Both of you have been working in animation for a while. How do you make sure an animated movie appeals to the whole family?
Cody: That isn’t done intentionally. Hopefully, it happens naturally, because we make the film that we want to make, something that we want to see. Being people who work in animation, there’s a youthful side to what we do. So, hopefully, we’re doing stuff that appeals to everyone.
Kris: Our journey is one [where] we’re always “workshopping” stuff. The reason animation takes so long to make is, you live in that story world, and you try a lot of material out. We’re always pitching. We’re always showing reels to audiences, our own families, our crew. You’re always trying to sort of understand, to get back away from the trees to see the forest, how is it communicating. You know, you have your intellectual throughline, but at the end of the day, the jokes are really about how they land. Did people laugh? Are they able to understand the story? All of that stuff is the learning process of screening the thing again and again and again.
Movieguide®: Yeah, you don’t want your story to get so complex that people stop and say, “Now – where are we?”
Kris: That happens! You start off with a complex story, and over three years you simplify and simplify and simplify, and find other ways to say the same thing.
Movieguide®: What was interesting to me was how all the actors [in the CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2] at the press conference reflected on their own kids and making the movie for their own kids. When actors say things like that to you, like Terry Crewes, who said his kids love the first movie. Do you get feedback from other parents?
Cody: Yeah, we’ve done focus groups where people watch the film and then give their comments. Then, we’ll have people who work at the studio who have kids. We’re always getting feedback from everyone around us.
Kris: While we don’t make movies just for kids, we understand they’re our audience. We never want to alienate them. Our story process is to make ourselves laugh, then hopefully that’s universal enough. We’re like big kids, so that kind of idea translates well.
Movieguide®: You all said in the press conference how making the movie was really a team effort. How do you guys work with the team, from the screenwriters to the executive producers and the animators. How does that all work together?
Kris: It’s a workshopping process.
Cody: We have a conference room. The writers and producers are in the conference room together. Sometimes, the story artists are also part of that meeting. Or, we’ll meet with animators, and it’s a whole group of animators. If we’re looking for an idea, like any good idea, anyone can have a good idea. It’s not like we have an embargo on ideas. Everyone can speak. So, it’s a collaborative film, and any idea is welcome.
Kris: Ultimately, what you want to do is be able to get into that lubricated conversation where ideas can start to happen. I think that’s where comedy comes from. When you’re not seeing it coming. Where it just happens. Those rim shots come out of the conversation in the room. As our production schedule rolls along, the opportunity to find those crazy ideas, it changes. You can’t throw a new thing into animation that’s not going to fit into the plot.
Movieguide®: Not to take anything away from the first movie, which we love, but this movie seems so much visually richer, there’s so much to look at, that it bears a second, third, or fourth viewing.
Kris: Our production designer, Justin Thompson, his creative response to this opportunity, he had so much fun just taking the governor off the CLOUDY world because we were taking this static world and pushing it up against this creative space where it had an organic [effect] for everywhere. One of our rules was that the jungle [for the food animals] should never look like a jungle. It should always have a different color. It should always have its own movement.
Cody: We tried to stay away from green vines and green grass. It was always a purple or a blue or a red.
Movieguide®: Can you talk about coming up with the villain, who reflected kind of a shadow character of the hero, but also about getting Will Forte to do it, who came up with a great voice.
Kris: We liked the idea that Chester [the villain] was sort of like Flint unchecked. So, we wanted somebody who could really play off Bill Hader. Their history with SNL [SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE]. They’re both comedians. It seemed like a natural choice to bring a guy like Will in.
Movieguide®: You’re spoofing in a way Silicon Valley.
Cody: Also Richard Branson (of Virgin Atlantic] and a little bit of Richard Attenborough from JURASSIC PARK. A little bit of Carl Sagan, because he’s got a TV show and all the kids watch it.
Kris: We like the idea that Chester’s story is fairly honest. He WAS bullied as a kid, and he was probably beat up for being different. He never got that acceptance that Flint earned after the first film. So, he ended up being a kind of cold person. He really only listens to himself. Now, he’s got these holograms where he’s surrounded himself with himself. He’s sort of become isolated, literally in a bubble. We really debated when he would reveal [his evil intentions] in the plot, and it just kept moving forward and forward. So, we just decided to give the audience everything early and make it super simple. Ironically, we just had more fun with the character, the more we unpacked him, the more we just let him be that. The idea of taking this naïve, innocent human being, who goes on this journey with this guy who’s so obviously bad, was so fun! It created this really fun opportunity to watch Chester’s manipulation of Flint on camera, and let that be sort of the presentation to the audience as opposed to hiding it from them.
Movieguide®: Does working with so many details in animation, including working with the actors, ever get tedious?
Cody: I love working with animation and working with actors, so for me it’s always fun. I don’t find it tedious.
Kris. It might be challenging, but, for us, the idea of refreshing the materials and sort of bringing new people in and letting them read the lines after workshopping it for a long time, you just learn so much, even if it is just working on minute bumps in the session. There’s so much growth that happens, once you let someone else just take over.
Cody: It seems like everyone we work with comes to play. We all like to play.
Kris: We stay on script for what we need in the plot, but we also let the happy accidents come.