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CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS , USA , 2009 , MPAA Rating : PG for brief mild language

Spaghetti has never been more terrifying, Gummi bears more menacing, nor the pleasures and perils of exploring the frontiers of science more vivid than in CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS. Based on the novel of the same name by Judi and Ron Barret, and brought to glorious animated life, itís got clever dialogue and enough sly swipes at political egos and celebrity culture for the adults, with enough sight gags and pinpoint accurate comic timing for everyone no matter what age.

Our hero is Flint (voice of Bill Hader), a boy genius with a Tesla poster on his wall, a boundless imagination, and a knack for getting inventions not quite right. Shoes that solve the untied shoelace problem generate other issues, ratbirds, though sporting rainbow wings, otherwise blend the worst of both species, a remote-controlled television is alarmingly ambulatory. Hence the island population of Swallow Falls, who have never taken him seriously, have given free reign to their collective derision of him. Worst of all, his father (James Caan) is a man given to fishing metaphors to express himself, the which is something that Flint, for all his smarts, canít follow except that the ultimate point is to express paternal disappointment. Itís a familial situation exacerbated when the older man loses all patience with his sonís quest for an invention that works the way it's supposed to and orders him to take up his destiny by working at the family fish and tackle store.

The timing couldnít be worse. Tiny Swallow Fallsí economy, based solely on sardine fishing, has bottomed out in the wake of the world suddenly realizing how icky sardines are. The islanders are stuck eating what they catch in ways traditional and novel, if nauseating, and Flint is on the verge of perfecting a machine that can turn water into food. Any food. All it takes is the right programming (for those familiar with coding, the specifics are shown with a wicked whimsy). In a veritable perfect storm of coincidences, the mayor of Swallow Falls, a man with an outsize ego and miniscule grasp of reality, plans to unveil his plan to turn his town and island into a sardine-themed amusement park, a cable weather channel is set to cover it in the person of a perky intern, Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), and Flint, seizing the opportunity to plug his latest invention into the municipal power grid when his fellow citizens are one and all at the opening ceremony. Rather than the world biggest sardine wowing the crowd by leaping through a fiery hoop of doom, itís the sudden whoosh of Flintís invention zooming through the proceedings before disappearing into the stratosphere. The opening is ruined, the worldís largest sardine doesnít fare so well, and Samís budding career as a broadcast meteorologist is shot. But just as things seem at their lowest point, there is a sudden and surprising downpour of perfectly prepared cheeseburgers. Flint is vindicated, Sam has the scoop, and Swallow Falls, rechristened ChewAndSwallow, is the dream destination of the whole world. Of course it's too good to be true.

The graphics are bold and boldy silly, as befits a film that employs food as precipitation. They are also compelling, particularly the lovely amber tones of the gelatin castle Flint constructs for Sam after she confides to him what her favorite food is. The writing is just as bold, silly, and yet warmly human amid the chaos and wonder of the premise. Man, it has been said, does not live by bread alone, and CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS gets that right without being pedantic about it. Anything but, as a matter of fact as it celebrates the nerd for the colorful dreamer that he or she is.

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