Meatballs is the best 3-D animated foodie flick ever

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs will have you at Jell-O.

Oh, my, did I just say that? Yup, I did, and I mean it. Meatballs is very much a kids' movie, but adults with kids will appreciate it as well. And adults like yours truly, who read the Judi Barrett/Ron Barrett book to my wide-eyed son years ago will, ahem, eat it up.

The premise—which only loosely resembles that of the book—goes like this: Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is a spectacularly failed inventor, a disappointment to his dad (James Caan) and a good-natured social misfit in his small town of Chewandswallow. Actually, Chewandswallow is suffering horribly, with the world at large no longer buying its chief export, sardines. Mayor Shelbourne (Bruce Campbell) hatches a plan to create a museum/theme park, only to look on in horror as Flint's latest contraption, a machine designed to turn water into food, ruins the big day.

However, it quickly becomes apparent that Flint's thingamajig works. Cheeseburgers drop from the sky. Flint becomes a celebrity, a hero, a savior. He even catches the eye of rookie weather gal Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), who just might be chowing down on the story of the year. Of course, there's more to her than meets the eyeglasses. She's actually a super-smart nerd. Anyway, Flint starts to whip up what the people want, programming the machine to crank out ice cream, steaks, pancakes and—say it with us now—meatballs. The problem is, the food's growing increasingly larger, the dump is filling up fast, the locals are gaining weight, and the machine is edging closer to overload. If Flint and Sam don't act soon, Chewandswallow just might get swallowed up.

Written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a fun, fast souffle of a movie. It nails the whimsy—giant steaks landing on plates in an open-air restaurant, people wading in pools of nacho cheese, elementary school closed for the day by a massive pancake, a sweet Flint-Sam date inside a huge Jell-O mold. It nails the action—a nasty spaghetti hurricane; a wild helicopter sequence; the mass exodus, on boats made of toast, from Chewandswallow. The comedy is spot-on, too, with Neil Patrick Harris scoring chuckles as the voice of Flint's talking sidekick monkey, Benjamin Bratt as Sam's Guatamalan jack-of-all-trades cameraman and Mr. T as a tough, no-nonsense cop who takes every opportunity to let his son (Bobb'e J. Thompson) know he loves him. And it's all realized in gorgeous candy colors and state-of-the-art 3-D. As for the 3-D, the filmmakers rarely bother with cheap, in-your-face gags, but rather employ the device to bring the entire screen to vibrant life.

Most importantly, though, Meatballs serves up plenty of heart (and a few worthwhile, subtly-put-across lessons about fitting in, self-esteem and greed). Everyone will root for Flint to succeed, to see him turn off the machine, win the girl and earn his dad's approval. The scenes between Flint and his dad, whose eyes we almost never see and who speaks in fishing metaphors, ring true. The Flint-Sam relationship feels honest, too, thanks in large part to the vocal chemistry between Hader and Faris. Actually, there's nothing bad to say about Meatballs; it's a full meal of a movie.