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Originally published Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 12:03 AM

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Comedy is in the forecast: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs'

Northwest native Christopher Miller co-directed "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" with Phil Lord. In this interview, they talk about the making of the 3-D animated feature.

Special to The Seattle Times

Manna from heaven sustained Moses and his followers. Jesus turned water into wine. And a young inventor, Flint Lockwood, transforms clouds into raining cheeseburgers in the 3-D animated feature "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," which opens Friday in Seattle.

Were the filmmakers thinking of biblical references when they signed on?

Yes, they say, but they also loaded up their script with plenty of other allusions, including Michael Moore's "Roger & Me," which also deals with a destitute small town (Flint, Mich.) that opens a museum for tourists (yes, Flint Lockwood is named after Flint), and the 1959 satire "The Mouse That Roared," which opens with the officious Columbia Pictures lady and her torch being scared off the stage by a mouse.

In "Cloudy," she gets hit by a banana.

"We had many meetings about that," said Phil Lord, who co-directed the movie with his friend and collaborator, Christopher Miller. "We did the research and demonstrated that there had been a precedent."

Miller, a Lake Stevens native who went to the Lakeside School, pointed out several Northwest references in the script, including Astoria's canneries and Swallow Falls (named after Granite Falls). In the movie, the town's citizens are reduced to eating slimy, leftover sardines before Flint rescues them with his flying food.

"We haven't heard of a protest yet from the sardine industry," he said.

Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, they said they were generally free to do what they wanted in adapting Judi Barrett's 1978 book, which had been No. 1 in popularity on the list of children's books that hadn't been filmed. They loved it as kids, but they realized it couldn't be filmed without drastic changes.

"It's a 30-page picture book without any major characters," said Miller. "They were all invented from scratch. It was this imaginative world that needed to be expanded, not a 2,000-page novel you're trying to condense into a film."

Among their models were "Jurassic Park" and the disaster movies of Irwin Allen ("The Towering Inferno") and Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day"), which often featured dashing scientists and plucky reporters.

Bill Hader (from "Saturday Night Live") supplies the voice for Flint, and Anna Faris (an Edmonds native) plays his girlfriend, Sam. Bruce Campbell is the ambitious mayor, a consumption-crazed politician who loses control of the town and his physique.

"The script was partly written for our comedy friends and heroes," said Lord. They know Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Flint's monkey pal, Steve, because they're executive producers of his television series, "How I Met Your Mother."

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"The actors brought their own ideas," he said. "There was a lot of improvisation, which added a level of spontaneity and made it feel less canned."

One of the more suspenseful subplots, about Flint and his taciturn father (James Caan), who resists computers and the Internet, grew out of Miller's frustration with his own father. Sam's peanut allergy, which also plays a crucial role, was inspired by Hader's allergies to nuts.

"How do you do a movie about food without someone having a food allergy?" they asked.

"In some ways the movie looks different than the book, which had Ron Barrett's illustrations," said Lord, "but the sense of humor, the comedic irony, is the same."

Among the filmmakers' more dubious contributions to the script are a series of puns that includes the ghastly conjunction of "meteor" and "meatier."

"There were even worse ones," said Lord. "It shows restraint on our part that we left them out."

A couple of years ago, shortly after they discovered that Columbia/Sony had the rights to the book, Lord and Miller composed the movie visually with 3-D in mind.

"Fairly early on," said Miller, "we knew this would be a big year for 3-D, and we lobbied very hard for it."

In Seattle, it will be playing in 3-D IMAX at the Pacific Science Center.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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