- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

Adult foodies had “Julie & Julia” to make their mouths water in theaters this year. Hungry children have “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”

The beloved 1978 children’s book tells of the town of Chewandswallow and its extraordinary weather - juice and soup rain down, while hamburgers float from the sky. This animated film, in 3-D in some theaters, imagines how the place might have gotten that way.

It’s all the fault of Flint Lockwood (the voice of Bill Hader). A bookish boy, he leaves a trail of failed experiments behind him as he matures. “The world needs your originality, Flint. You just need to grow into it,” his mom (Lauren Graham) says encouragingly after he’s mocked at school.

The words of his dead mother ring in his ears as he, now a grown man, tries to come up with an invention that will prove his genius. His skeptical dad (James Caan) would prefer that Flint help out at his tackle shop, but Flint is determined to make the townspeople appreciate him at last. Their island is focused on sardine fishing, and sardines are all anyone there eats. Flint wants to give them a taste, for the first time, of a big, juicy hamburger. He does more than that - an electrical accident sends the machine he has created into the sky, and the town that had become “flavorless” is the recipient of some tasty precipitation.

Sam Sparks, a weather girl who hides her brains behind long hair and a smile (a well-cast Anna Faris), tells the world about the sensational Chewandswallow. But that world is in jeopardy when Flint’s machine goes haywire and the food begins to look rather ominous to the omnivores.

“Cloudy” is Sony Pictures Animation’s third theatrical release, after “Open Season” and “Surf’s Up.” The animation here is certainly up to par, but it doesn’t have the magic of Pixar. The story isn’t nearly as creative as that studio’s work, either. Flint and his mom might worship originality, but there’s little in this plot - you know where the relationships Flint has with his father and with Sam will go.

Still, children will be delighted to see a climate of confections, and the animators do have some fun with the story. You might think restaurateurs would retire when food comes down from the sky, but the chic “The Roofless” offers wine and fancy silverware to go with that flying steak.

The focus on Flint means you don’t see much of the supporting players, which is too bad, because the cast is first rate, including Bruce Campbell as the gluttonous mayor, Andy Samberg as a spoiled baby mascot all grown up and, especially, Mr. T as a policeman with his eye on Flint. They all discover that you should be careful what you wish for - it might just fall from the sky and knock you right over.

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TITLE: “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”

RATING: PG (brief mild language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller based on the book written by Judi Barrett with illustrations by Ron Barrett.

RUNNING TIME: 81 minutes

WEB SITE: sonypictures.com/movies/ cloudywithachanceofmeatballs

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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