OK, it’s raining hamburgers -- but make it believable
“We’ve made a career out of being in over our heads.”
Phil Lord is sitting with his longtime creative partner Chris Miller, talking about how it came to be that their feature debut as writers and directors is the ambitiously outsized 3-D animated film “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” an adaptation of the beloved 1978 children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett that opens Friday.
The original book had only a spare story, so Miller and Lord created a plot involving a struggling young inventor (voiced by Bill Hader) who discards his malfunctioning water-to-food machine only to discover it works all too well when the skies spill all manner of edibles. His creation seems a boon to his struggling hometown, as well as to a weathergirl with larger aspirations (Anna Faris), until things go haywire.
Miller and Lord started working together while both were at Dartmouth College, later moving to Los Angeles to develop animation projects for Disney. They placed their animated “Clone High” on MTV and moved on to working on a string of sitcoms as writers and producers, including the first season of “How I Met Your Mother.”
“Animation is just another way of telling a story,” said Miller of how they’ve bounced between live-action and animated comedy. “The medium is less important than the story we’re trying to tell and the funniest way to tell it. Animation is awesome because there’s a really bold type of comedy you can get away with that you couldn’t get away with in live action, a broader, campier style.”
In addition to Hader and Faris, the film’s voice-cast is populated with a startlingly hip group of performers that includes Andy Samberg, James Caan, Lauren Graham, Neil Patrick Harris, Mr. T and Bruce Campbell. The directors’ attention to the odd detail led to small references from the original book -- a boy in Groucho Marx glasses, a man in a bathtub caught in a tornado -- and Lord and Miller also spent a lot of time imagining the various foodstuffs that would pummel the town. They gave special attention to such notions as how a giant hamburger would bust apart on the ground or what it would be like to move in a room made of Jell-O.
“We tried to do as progressive a version of a mainstream family movie as possible,” said Lord. “We tried to push the envelope in every area that people could stomach and deliver the craziest movie the studio would allow. We still wanted all the things that make a movie a hit -- it had to make you feel something, have lovable, likable characters and a relatively conventional action-comedy structure. But then there’s a flying roast chicken and Mr. T running around.”