Home > Reviews > CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS – Mark Mothersbaugh


September 18, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

When I first heard about Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs I assumed it was one of those beloved American pre-school children’s books of which I have never heard, like pretty much everything by Dr. Seuss or Where the Wild Things are, and it turns out I was right. Written by Judi Barrett, illustrated by her husband Ron Barrett, and first published in 1978, it tells the story of an young inventor named Flint Lockwood who builds a machine which converts rain water into food, making him and his town internationally famous… until, unexpectedly, the food that falls from the sky starts to grow to enormous size, and threatens to destroy everything. It’s basically an animated comedy that spoofs disaster movies like Armageddon, albeit replacing asteroids with cheeseburgers; it’s directed by Darcy MacIsaac and Christopher Miller, and has an all-star voice cast featuring the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, Anna Faris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, and even Mr. T!

The score for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is by Mark Mothersbaugh, the majority of whose film music to date has left me rather cold. I dug “Whip It”, and am impressed with everything he did with Devo back in the day, but his film music has generally seemed to be somewhat under-developed and lacking in identity. I’ve heard his scores for films like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, and some of his Rugrats stuff, but have never really come away with an impression of what kind of composer he is. Unfortunately, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs doesn’t really change my perception of what Mothersbaugh is all about, but it is by far the most impressive score I have heard from him to date, which I suppose is a step in the right direction.

The score opens with a throwaway piece of over-produced Disney-friendly pop fluff called “Raining Sunshine” by teenage singer Miranda Cosgrove, before moving on into the score proper. Despite being written for a large symphony orchestra, Mothersbaugh’s music is quite bitty in its construct, with cues rarely lasting much longer than 2 minutes, giving little chance for any kind of genuine thematic development, but what music there is tends to be very good. More than anything, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a warm, inviting score; the sense of magic and whimsy and appealing harmony Mothersbaugh brings to his music carries through virtually the entire score, making it a consistently enjoyable listen, with a number of quite excellent highlights. It’s the kind of thing people like Alan Silvestri, John Debney, Marc Shaiman and David Newman often write, and anyone who enjoys the work of those composers will surely find much to enjoy here.

“Introducing Flint” introduces the score’s main theme, a broadly heroic fanfare for the massed brass section that sounds like a refugee from Armageddon or one of those über-heroic testosterone scores, albeit with its tongue in its cheek. It plays in the same way as Harry Gregson-Williams’s score for Team America, in that it parodies the musical conventions of the genre, while having it perform the same function and making the film seem exciting and heroic; it’s clever stuff. Cues like “Meatier Shower” “The Spaghetti Twister”, “Flint’s Determination”, “The Mission Begins”, “Earl Takes Charge” and the wonderful “Attack of the Gummy Bears” are bold and exciting, with some flashy and flamboyant orchestral performances and, occasionally, a choir to add a sense of scope and grandeur, although some of the electronic overlays on some of the cues are a little distracting. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t know Mothersbaugh was capable of writing solid orchestral action material like this, and I would quite like to see what direction he would take if asked to score a serious action/drama/thriller in future.

Of course, Mark Mothersbaugh wouldn’t be Mark Mothersbaugh if he didn’t bring some of his quirky, oddball sense of humor to the table, and once in a while he has some fun working techno-style funky electronic pulses into the likes of “The Latest Invention”, “Powering Up”, and the bubbly “Snowball!”. There’s Copland-style brass Americana in “The Food Storm”, intentionally cheesy spaced-out robotica in “Inside the Meatball” and “The Heart of the Meatball” that really has to be heard to be believed, and a few other kooky touches here and there. The level of creativity on display is rather impressive, although I have to admit that some of the electronic sounds Mothersbaugh uses – although they are clearly for comedic effect – did tend to grate.

On the other hand, there’s a lovely, lilting motif for strings, piano and harp which seems to represent Flint’s inquisitiveness, and his wondrous sense of discovery and innovation, as it always seems to crop up at moments of magical expressiveness, such as in the opening “Swallow Falls”, or later cues such as “Ice Cream Wonderland”. There’s also a tender, bittersweet, gently romantic theme, heard in cues such as in “Doubting Dad” and “Anaphylactic Love”, which reminds me of Danny Elfman, or perhaps Randy Newman at his most sentimental, and is generally quite charming and appealing. The finale, consisting of “Spray-On Triumph” and “Flint Returns”, is as large-scale as one might expect, and sees Mothersbaugh raising his game, accompanying his themes with magical chimes, harp waves and a cooing angelic choir to end the score on a glorious high.

Really, other than some of the more off the wall electronics, the only thing hampering Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is it’s haphazard and scattershot nature. Cues often change direction style multiple times within the space of two or three minutes, giving the entire score a breathless, slightly unfocused feel. It’s the nature of the beast when it comes to scoring for animated films, especially when half the audience probably has ADD, but it’s a real shame as the actual thematic content is lovely, and would have benefitted greatly from an extended performance here and there in order for the listener to get a feel for what Mothersbaugh was trying to achieve. As such, I still don’t think I truly know what kind of composer Mark Mothersbaugh is, but if he writes things like this on a regular basis in future (and they get released) I’ll be happy.

Rating: ***½

Buy the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Raining Sunshine (written by Matthew Gerrard, Jay Landers and Charlie Midnight, performed by Miranda Cosgrove) (3:44)
  • Swallow Falls (0:47)
  • Introducing Flint (4:16)
  • The Latest Invention (1:23)
  • The Mayor/Earl Warns Flint (1:17)
  • Sam’s Big Break (0:50)
  • Powering Up (1:05)
  • Failure Again (1:54)
  • Meatier Shower (3:10)
  • A Father’s Love (1:19)
  • Ice Cream Wonderland (1:22)
  • Snowball! (1:15)
  • The Mayor’s Big Plan (1:16)
  • Activation and the Jello Dome (1:39)
  • Sam and Flint Bond (2:00)
  • Doubting Dad/Mutations (2:57)
  • The Spaghetti Twister (3:08)
  • Aftermath (2:26)
  • Flint’s Determination (2:44)
  • The Food Storm (2:08)
  • The Mission Begins (2:36)
  • Outside the Meatball (1:57)
  • Inside the Meatball (1:39)
  • Earl Takes Charge (2:00)
  • Sentient Chickens (2:42)
  • Worldwide Chaos (0:57)
  • Anaphylactic Love (1:41)
  • Attack of the Gummy Bears (1:40)
  • Here’s the Cheese (1:25)
  • The Heart of the Meatball (1:17)
  • Spray-On Triumph (1:55)
  • Flint Returns (3:31)
  • Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows (written by Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Liebling, performed by Lesley Gore) (1:37)

Running Time: 65 minutes 37 seconds

Sony Pictures Entertainment Digital Download (2009)

Music composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. Conducted by James T. Sale. Orchestrations by Richard Bronskill, Christopher Guardino, James T. Sale and Bill Boston. Recorded and mixed by Brad Haehnel. Edited by Andrew Dorfman. Album produced by Mark Mothersbaugh.

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