MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Cloudy with a Chance of Mediocrity

I realize I’m in the critical minority on this, but I wasn’t all that crazy about Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Yes, yes, the animation was bright! And colorful! And the cheeseburgers and scoops of ice cream and giant pancakes and meatballs practically popped off the screen. It was all very exciting, I suppose. I didn’t exactly hate any of the characters (well, I wasn’t crazy about Baby Brent, he annoyed the hell out of me, but neither did I get the impression I was supposed to like him). I kind of liked the whole bit about smart kids who don’t quite fit in, but who are nonetheless the creative minds that can change the world, and I did like the transformation of the character of Sam, the smart girl who’d convinced herself the only way to succeed was to be dumb and pretty. And yet, I just didn’t care for the movie overall.

I’ve been mulling over the whys and wherefores of my general indifference to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and here’s what I’ve come up with: I’m growing a bit weary of the stench of stereotypes and whiffs of agitprop in films targeted at my kids.

It’s not like the infusion of values into kiddie flicks is anything new; Disney’s been doing it since time out of mind with their whole hero blueprint wherein the hero can never profit by lies or misdeeds, and there’s always a clear good guy and bad guy in any story. That’s one of the things I like about the films of Hayao Miyazaki, actually; in Miyazaki’s stories the presumed good guys often make questionable judgements and decisions, and the presumed bad guys aren’t always clearly villainous. Miyazaki knows that most people and situations are not morally black-and-white; even the environmentalist seeking to save the rain forest can make ethically unsound judgments in the one-sidedness of his quest.

The moral message underlying Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was very similar to the much-better WALL-E: man’s propensity for overindulgence is bad, and eating too much makes you fat. But WALL-E was a unique and charming character who spoke only a few words and yet conveyed more personality than the characters in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballsdo with all their abundant dialogue.

The characters in Meatballs — with the exception of Sam, the secretly nerdy wanna-be weather girl — were generally flat and regurgitated from stereotypes we’ve seen a million times before. Manly-man dad doesn’t understand his nerdy, somewhat effeminate son, but learns to appreciate him by the end. Greedy, small-statured mayor puts his own interest ahead of the town, and in the end his greed is his own literal and metaphorical undoing. Even Flint, the main character, had a profile that could have been lifted from the Disney Bible: he says he wants to change the world, but what he really wants is the admiration and acceptance of those who have always rejected him; this leads him to make morally questionable decisions which ultimately lead not only to his own undoing, but very nearly cause a catastrophe of global proportions. And of course, he can’t get the girl until he learns his lesson and rectifies his mistake. Yawn, yawn, yawn.

A couple years ago, I had issues with another family film that most critics liked: Happy Feet. I disliked Happy Feet intensely, for its inappropriately overt sexual references, its freakishly scary penguin-eating sea lion, its annoyingly racist Latino “amigos,” and its heavy-handed “look how humans are screwing up the environment” closing sequence. And for the record, I’m a Seattle liberal hippie chick, but even I don’t like being beaten about the head and shoulders with moral messages, and I like even less to have other peoples’ ideas of moral self-righteousness poured down my kids’ throats with a spoonful of animated sugar to sweeten the agitprop underneath.

What’s sad is that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Happy Feet are actually two of the better kid’s movies to grace the multiplex over the past couple years. Compared to dreck like Happily N’Ever After and Fly Me to the Moon, they were the good ones.

Here’s what I want in the movies I’m going to shell out $70 to take my kids to at the local multiplex: less of copying stories and characters that have been done 89,000 times, and wayless of the packing every kiddie flick with an Important Message.  You want me and parents like me to keep turning over our hard earned money at the box office, Hollywood? Give us more films like WALL-EUpCoraline and Ponyo. Sure, some parents will come out with the kiddos for anything that looks bright and shiny and promises to keep their offspring occupied for 90 minutes, but I want more. Dazzle me.

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon