The Greed and Artifice of Hamburgers
by Renu Gharpure
A major theme throughout Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009) is greed and its consequences. The film uses many methods to reveal its message on the dangers of greed, but none are so strong as the portrayal of Mayor Shelbourne and his relationship to the new source of food, pictured here. Mayor Shelbourne is the mayor of Swallow Falls, where this quaint children’s tale takes place. The mayor’s goal as head of the town is to expand, reach out, and make the island-town of Swallow Falls a desired destination for people across the globe. We see his personality emerge as the movie progresses—he continuously talks about expansion and how “bigger is better.” The film provides a visual aid for this concept by showing the mayor physically “expanding,” so to speak. As the story unfolds, the mayor becomes fatter and fatter until he can no longer walk without the help of a mechanical chair. His mindless attempts to attract tourists and increase revenue are represented by the foods that he orders from Flint’s food-making machine. In the still here, the mayor gorges himself on three hamburgers—the first food to rain down from the FLDSMDFR (Flint Lockwood’s Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator).
A lot can be said about the choice of making hamburgers the first food to fall from the sky. The hamburger is an American staple; it stands as representative of all American foods, the taste that Americans crave most. In this way, it represents the American dream as well, which is mostly defined as “making it big,” whether politically, socially, or financially. This is similar to the way the mayor is waiting for Swallow Falls to “make it big” internationally. When the mayor realizes what Flint has invented and the magnitude of the invention, he realizes that here lies the key to the rebirth of the town. Indeed, as the town builds its air time on the world’s news, the name “Swallow Falls” is changed to Chew and Swallow Falls, which implies that now this town should not just be overlooked, or simply “swallowed,” but it must be mulled over, thought about—“chewed on,” so to speak, as people use the expression today. The hamburgers raining down symbolize the mayor’s American dream beginning to come true—the key to his success literally falls from the sky and he literally eats it up.
The backdrop against the hamburgers in this still reflects ideas that are represented by the artificial food. The bright, colorful lights might suggest a sort of celestial light shining down from the sky along with the food—this false food made by the FLDSMDFR is saving Swallow Falls from their gray, “flavorless” days of eating only sardines (being a nearly-forgotten island has led the town to having only one source of food: sardines). The hamburgers provide a nice contrast to this very unappetizing fish. Burgers are savory and meaty at their best, and this lighting emphasizes the savior-like qualities of the food—however, there is something unnatural and unearthly about the light. True goodness and divinity would more commonly be associated with clear, cloudless skies and sunlight—or else light that shines through the clouds, as though breaking apart the dark cloud masses. This light, however, does neither of those things. It is coming from the cloud itself, which means there is nothing breaking up the overcast skies. This offers a sense of foreboding or foreshadowing brought alongside the hamburgers. Setting the hamburgers up against this artificial backdrop of colors and light increases the falsity of the food.
Artifice is used throughout the film whenever any of the FLDSMDFR food makes an appearance. The mayor is also the character most associated with the artificial food because he is never seen without a massive stack of food—later in the movie he actually eats a giant human-sized hotdog topped with several giant scoops of ice cream all in one bite. As the mayor pushes Flint to produce more fake food so he can further expand the town’s popularity, he, too, physically increases in size and the lights and colors become harsher and darker until, at the climax of the film, the sky is fiery orange and blood red with a spiraling spaghetti twister wreaking havoc through the town. Introducing all of these themes with hamburgers—an American staple representing the mayor’s emerging American dream—strengthens the film’s message on the dangers of greediness and artificiality.