By Roger Moore
September 16, 2009
Based on the popular children's book by Judi and Ron Barrett, "Meatballs" is about fathers and sons, daring to be smart and the price of gluttony.
Bill Hader, a voice-acting natural, is Flint Lockwood, the kid who "wants to be smart. But that's lame." So the other kids told him. He's grown up to be the resident screwball inventor of the tiny island town of Swallow Falls. His spray-on shoes and hybrid "rat-birds" are a bust. But he needs to come up with something since this sardine capital fell on hard times once the world figured out what sardines taste like.
His dad ( James Caan, drawn with an eyeless monobrow) wants Flint to join him at the family tackle shop. But Flint, ignoring past disasters, has one last gadget up his sleeve -- one that can change water vapor into prepared foods. When this thing goes airborne and cheeseburgers drop from the sky, that's a Weather News Network event, one the perky intern Sam Sparks ( Anna Faris, another natural cartoon voice) is ready to cover. Cruise ships full of over-eaters are on their way to sample the showers of sushi and the blizzards of blintzes. That's if the mayor ( Bruce Campbell) has his way and if the townsfolk don't eat themselves into a coma first.
The Sony house animation style is punchy, kid-friendly, and in-your-face -- hysterical close-ups of characters like the hysterical cop (Mr. T, hysterical). Gadgets and rat-birds fly off the screen, and we're treated to visually stunning vermicelli tornadoes and an epic "food-a-lanche."
The writing -- the opening credits call this "A film by... a lot of people" -- delivers five good laughs before those opening credits are done. Visual puns and TV weather gags abound. Check out the recognizable childhood toys that Flint re-purposed for his mad scientist's laboratory.
And in between the Jell-O mold diving, ice-cream sledding and the derivative, overdone action finale, Hader, Faris, Caan and the writers deliver a biting message that parents should love -- celebrate smartness and ease up on the "easy" (junk) food before it kills you.