Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Films about food usually feature chefs, whether they're obsessive pros or dedicated, magical amateurs who invent marvelous, miraculous edibles by blending and stirring, chopping and kneading, adding a little spice and a soupcon of drama to the kitchen. But nuts and bolts inventors? They're hardly ever depicted as gastronomical wizards. Until Flint Lockwood, the wacky inventor of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and a guy who's more astronomical than gastronomical.

Flint doesn't make fancy food. He specializes in pizza and cheeseburgers and Jell-O and donuts. The kind of food that makes Homer Simpson drool. Flint doesn't cook either. He's invented a handy-dandy machine that converts plain old water into mouthwatering combinations of sugar, fat, and salt, the unholy trinity of obesity, the trifecta of artery-clogging comestibles. (Although if it's made from water, it must be vegan and cholesterol-free, no?) Flint's food literally rains down on the aptly named town of Swallow Falls, where the populace (raised on a steady diet of sardines), is eager to expand their gastronomical horizons.

Thanks to his many failed inventions, Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) was once the laughing stock of Swallow Falls; but then Flint's machine was accidentally shot into the sky, where it continuously churns rainwater into buttery treats. Now he's the man with the manna, the toastmaster, the pharaoh of the food pyramid. Even better, he's been noticed by cutie-pie meteorologist Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), an all-around smart cookie (with a serious peanut allergy). Suddenly, the world is Flint's oyster, er, cheeseburger. Needless to say, things eventually go terribly, deliciously wrong, Flint's machine goes bananas, and showers of colorful sprinkles give way to a pasta disasta.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is, of course, based on the popular 1978 children's book of the same name (by Judi and Ron Barrett) and has been adapted for the screen with nifty 3-D animation by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and the animators at Sony Imageworks. The animation is lively, bright, and colorful, with lots of clever sight gags and plenty of humor for both the little ones and the adults they bring along to buy the popcorn and Twizzlers. There are mildly menacing Gummi Bears, which is the only explanation I can come up with for why Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is rated PG. The movie is far less scary than those creepy Quiznos commercials (which put the porn back in food porn), and anyway, every kid knows what to do when Gummi Bears attack. The movie nibbles at a smorgasbord of themes: fathers and sons (Flint's taciturn dad is voiced by a hilarious James Caan; Mr. T. is a pip as an overprotective pop), overindulgence and greed, the virtues and dangers of junk food, environmentalism and waste, heroism in the face of razor-sharp peanut brittle and rampaging bagels -- the usual fare. Dig in: it's fizzy, snarkless fun with no saccharine aftertaste.