'Meatballs' is food for thought

Food falls from the sky in this animated Food falls from the sky in this animated tale. Voice actors include Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Neil Patrick Harris, Andy Samberg and James Caan. In theaters Sept. 18, 2009.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

REVIEW

PLOT: A klutzy inventor discovers a way to create storms of food.

BOTTOM LINE: Clever and zippy, with some nutritional value hidden in the fun.

CAST: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell

LENGTH: 1:21

Meals fell from the sky in the 1978 children's book "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," a whimsical fantasy that doubled as a cautionary tale about portion control. It didn't stop America's obesity epidemic, but there's hope: Not long after Pixar's "WALL-E" envisioned a future of globular humans raised on fast food and high-fructose soda, Sony's computer-animated version of "Meatballs" draws another satiric picture of gluttony.

In Swallow Falls, whose sardine-based economy has hit a recession, teenage science geek Flint Lockwood (amiably voiced by Bill Hader) devises a bailout plan: a rocket-boosted pod that turns cloud-moisture into any type of food you like. For once, his crazy invention works, creating cheeseburger rain, ice-cream flurries and steak showers, all of which make this film's 3-D and Imax versions worth finding.

Flint's conservative father (a lovably gruff James Caan) predicts disaster, but the town's ambitious mayor (Bruce Campbell) sees gastro-tourism potential. Even as the machine goes into overdrive, producing meteoric meatballs and frighteningly long hot dogs, the mayor pushes for more.

Writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whose television credits include CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," pack each scene with jokes big and small, and the voice cast shines: Mr. T stars as an overzealous cop (complete with blue short shorts), Neil Patrick Harris gives voice to a frenetic monkey, and Andy Samberg plays a former sardine poster boy who has become an overgrown Gerber baby.

The smartest addition to the book, though, is weathergirl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), a perky blonde who plays dumb. Thanks to Flint, she discovers that intelligence can be attractive. That makes two valuable lessons, more than the USRDA in most kids' films.

You also may be interested in: