Monday, October 14, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Flint Lockwood grew up idolizing trendy inventor Chester V. He aspired to become an inventor himself and, (in the first Cloudy movie) creates the FLDSMDFR, a machine that can convert water into food. Unfortunately, the machine goes out of control and Flint’s town of Swallow Falls is overrun by food creatures – talking strawberries, walking pickles, and monsters made out of tacos and cheeseburgers. The first film ends as Flint manages to stop his dangerous machine. The second film begins as Chester V comes to Swallow Falls promising to clean up the mess made by Flint’s machine. Unfortunately, this will require all of the residents to vacate the town for a while. Even more unfortunately, Chester V (like Guy Gagne in Turbo) is an unworthy hero. He secretly intends to capture the FLDSMDFR and put it to use for his own gain. He also captures the newly-created food creatures. Flint joins with other citizens of Swallow Falls (and his father) to stop Chester V.

 The Adoption Connection
There is no direct adoption connection in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, but there are some parent-theme moments. One character is perceived as vicious, but it’s later revealed that she is a mother protecting her babies. Flint is, like many adolescents, distant from his father; he eventually shares a bonding moment with him which brings joy to both father and son. In a particularly sad scene, a very cute baby character has bonded to one of Flint’s female companions, but is temporarily abandoned. I can imagine this being a trigger for some kids. Finally, at the end of the film, many of the food creatures receive offspring. They basically come out of nowhere (actually, they’re generated by Flint’s machine), but this could be confusing for kids who are trying to figure out where they came from (I’m adopted, so I wasn’t born to you. Maybe I came out of a machine?) It probably won’t be a problem, but it’s at least worth checking in.

Strong Points
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is a fun movie with beautiful visuals. It may be the most visually interesting movie I’ve reviewed since Life of Pi, and it seems likely to inspire lots of imaginative play among its probably target audience of preschoolers and early grade school kids. The film also has some positive messages which are lightly introduced, or at least hinted at. “The Life Lessons of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” (not coming to bookstores near you anytime soon), are:
1.  Kids, your parents love you. It’s OK to interact with them.
2. Bullies aren’t necessarily going to be bullies forever. They may become your friends one day, if you treat them kindly.
3. Not all scary things are actually dangerous. Not all idolized things are actually good.

In an effort to protect his father, Flint leaves him behind while he sets off to save the day. Flint unintentionally created a situation where his dad would be left disempowered and unable to impact the fate of his own hometown. This nearly exactly matches the circumstances that touched me profoundly in Beasts of the Southern Wild, where a low-income community in a dangerous locale was moved against their will to a safer area. It made me think and write quite a bit about the ethics of imposing help on others – a theme which is certainly relevant to at least some forms of adoption (I work in foster care adoption). The theme is played much less dramatically here, and Flint’s dad is able to interject himself into the action, anyway.  (Also see: 12 Things You Can Do to Make Sure Your Adoption is Ethical)

I also struggle with the film’s message about bullies.  It’s true that bullies are acting from a set of circumstances from which their actions make sense to them. Many times, they themselves are hurting and sad. They’re also valuable people who need friends, support, and nurturance, and the film conveys that. I just wish they’d also added a little bit of a caveat that it’s OK to not let yourself be bullied prior to the bully changing his ways.

Weak Points
The grandfatherly/guru-like Chester V is actually evil. His kind words to Flint hide his intentions to use Flint for his own ends. This is unfortunate. Flint admits that Chester was his idol. He explains, “I wanted to be” Chester. But Chester was pursuing his own gain at Flint’s expense. This might hit too close to home for some kids who’ve been in the foster care system. Many have real-life experience of trusted and admired adults acting selfishly at the child’s expense.  
At its heart, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball 2 is a bright story of friends and family working together to save a beautiful world. The friends share a close bond; even though Chester tries to isolate Flint from his friends, the friendship is never really threatened. It’s not a particularly deep film, but it is a fun and happy tale. It’ll probably be the most fun for kids ages 4-8.

Questions for After the Film
The baby marshmallows popped right out of Flint’s magic machine. How did you get where you are?

Have you ever looked up to someone that wasn’t actually very nice?

Have you ever been scared of someone that actually was nice?

Are you being bullied at school? (Or, who at school is mean to you, that you wish would be nicer?)

What is the most fun you’ve ever had?

If this is your first time here, welcome! Please check out the other Adoption Movie Guides; and also follow Adoption at the Movies on Facebook! You can also find me on Twitter @AddisonCooper  and come back tomorrow for our first anniversary contest!

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