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In “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” struggling young inventor Flint Lockwood has a gaping hole in the center of his heart that can only be filled by one, elusive affirmation: the love and approval of his father.

Christian author John Eldredge calls it “the wound,” the deep longing in every boy’s heart to know that his father loves him, is proud of him and most of all affirms that the son is “man enough” to take on the world.

Movies retrace this theme of longing for a father’s love and acceptance frequently, and it often appears in children’s films, such as “Chicken Little,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Secondhand Lions,” to name only a few.

I wonder at times if Hollywood isn’t filled with little boys who grew up insecure in their father’s affirmation. Perhaps some were insecure – if we’re to believe the many films made with this storyline – because they were into acting and the arts (or inventing) instead of dad’s favorite hobbies, like football and fishing, or perhaps the movies stereotype too much.

Some have even speculated that boys devoid of that father’s assurance are more susceptible to sexual predators or even being wooed by the homosexual lifestyle.

I’m no psychologist, so I’ll leave that argument to others, but “Cloudy with a Chance for Meatballs” makes a strong case, a creepy case in one scene, that boys need – desperately need – to know that Dad loves them.

For without that assurance, the movie vividly portrays, “the wound” can destroy a boy.

A science nerd and aspiring inventor since his earliest memories, Flint Lockwood grows up distant from Dad; and after Mom’s death, Flint locks himself in his inventing lab dreaming of ways to show the town – but more importantly, show his dad – that Mom’s belief in him as a man destined for greatness is justified.

Only … Flint’s inventions are failures. And so is his quest to impress Pop.

Cast in the film are two father-son relationships, not only Flint’s and his father’s, but also police officer Earl (voiced to great effect by none other than Mr. T) and his son, Cal. Officer Earl, much to Flint’s dismay, appears to be the perfect pop, blessing his son with everything Flint’s dad doesn’t know how to give: love, affirmation, self-sacrifice, pride.

“I love you, Son,” says Officer Earl at one point in the film.

“I know, Dad,” replies Cal. “You tell me every day.”

To the observing Flint, overhearing such a statement is torture.

When even Flint’s greatest invention – a machine that turns water into food and can literally make it rain cheeseburgers – fails to impress Dad and then malfunctions to catastrophic proportions, Flint is ready to give up.

“I’m just a piece of junk,” Flint tells his father from in inside a garbage can, “so I threw myself away.”

Flint can’t get Dad to express his love in a way that Flint can understand. He can’t impress the ol’ man, and he never hears his father say, “I’m proud of you.”

That’s not to say another man won’t say those words, and herein is where “Meatballs” takes a surprising turn.

In a scene that should frighten fathers everywhere, “Meatballs” portrays a predator-like seduction of Flint, as the town’s mayor builds up, affirms and compliments the young inventor, makes him feel like more of a man, all for the mayor’s manipulative satisfaction.

The scene is nothing short of creepy; and if the speculation that such insecure boys are prime prey for predators holds true, then “Meatballs” demonstrates exactly how it’s done. Thankfully, the mayor’s motivations are gluttony and not lust, or this film would have earned itself an “R” rating.

As it is, the creepy scene ends with nothing more than a vivid memory and warning for fathers: a son left unloved is a son left unprotected, and that’s a dangerous position for our boys to be in.

“Meatballs” resolves itself into a happy ending – as you might expect in a children’s film – with plenty of love and affirmation to go around, with Flint finally proving himself in his father’s eyes and hearing the words of a father’s pride he longs to hear.

Most audiences, I think, will delight in the 3-D animation, the lovey-dovey ending, the heroism, the self-sacrifice and the humor and look past the intense paternal themes of the film. Despite being often gross, and occasionally odd, the film is clever and largely enjoyable.

But I still hearken back to the message: “Dad, do you love me?”

For the lost and “wounded” boys in Hollywood (or in the theaters), no matter their age, there is an answer to that question. And the answer is not found in finally achieving some great accomplishment, finally living up to Dad’s expectations or finding the approval of another man.

The answer is in the unending love of our other father: not the earthy one, but the heavenly one.

For our father, who art in heaven, loves us so much he would die for us, adopt us, give us a spirit within that calls him “Abba” – a word meaning “Daddy” – and spend an eternity rejoicing over us.

No greater love can be found than the love of a father, of the father, no matter what kind of rain is falling – be it troubles, worries, fear, cats and dogs, or … well, even cheeseburgers.

Content advisory:

  • “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” while fun and creative in many places, is often gross in others. From whipped cream oozing out of Abraham Lincoln’s nose (don’t ask), to kissing the vomit off a boy’s lips (really, don’t ask), to giant gobs of food bursting from a brown cloud of ooze, there are some pictures in the film not for the faint of stomach.
  • The film does contain some minor sexual elements, including a local hero who walks with a pair of ladies on his arm, a budding romantic relationship, an adolescent near-kiss scene, a close-up of clenched buttocks, and a particularly disturbing adult character who strips to a diaper in a pair of scenes and later “finds his true self” as a chicken. Literally, a broasted chicken. And, while nothing sexual is actually portrayed in the mayor’s seduction scene, the overtones could be disturbing to some audiences.
  • The film does have a brief scene where it appears characters are having fun looting a television store after its window is broken.
  • The only profanity in the film is the use of the word “hellhole,” though not as an expletive.
  • In the final credits, Flint’s mother reappears as a ghost, but the film is otherwise free of religious or occult content.

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