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Originally published September 17, 2009 at 3:02 PM | Page modified September 17, 2009 at 5:05 PM

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Movie review

'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs' offers a lesson to chew on

"Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" is a charmingly quirky feature-length expansion of Judi Barrett's 1978 children's picture book, with 3-D animation and a new set of characters to fill in the familiar gaps. Bill Hader is the voice of a young inventor whose schemes lead to raining hamburgers and a spaghetti tornado.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,' with the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, Neil Patrick Harris, Andy Samberg. Written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, based on the children's book by Judi Barrett. 90 minutes. Rated PG for brief mild language. Several theaters; see Page 15.

For an interview with the filmmakers, go to www.seattletimes.com/movies.

In one sense, the charmingly quirky 3-D animated feature "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" is all about raging egos.

The sort-of hero, Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader), is determined to invent a food-making machine and make a name for himself in Swallow Falls, even if he drains the destitute town's electricity resources. Dad (James Caan) retreats to his unprofitable tackle shop and insists that Flint join him.

Sam (Edmonds native Anna Faris), Flint's new girlfriend, has successfully suppressed her own ego for years, but it's bursting out now that she has a job on television, where she reports on the unusual weather — raining cheeseburgers, spaghetti tornadoes — that Flint has created.

The greedy mayor (Bruce Campbell) uses Flint's breakthrough to manipulate the public and expand his waistline, while a doomsday prophet is happy, oh so happy, to report, with apparent justification, that "the end of the world is today."

In other words, this is a "be careful what you wish for" wish-fulfillment movie. Every apparent advantage has its dark side, unlimited consumption can be corrupting, and even a potential end to world hunger has its drawbacks. In this context, "all you can eat" becomes a scary metaphor for eternity.

This may seem like a lot for a kids picture to have on its mind, but the filmmakers never forget to have fun. If you ever thought a marshmallow might make a fine crispy torch, or you've wondered what it would be like to luxuriate in a Jell-O palace, or you've imagined a "snow day" with ice-cream snowballs, you'll find kindred spirits here.

The writing-directing team — Christopher Miller (also a Northwest native, from Lake Stevens) and Phil Lord — loved Judi Barrett's 1978 picture book when they were kids, and they've communicated that enthusiasm to their actors and technicians.

There may not be quite enough screen time for such engaging supporting characters as Flint's monkey (Neil Patrick Harris) or the town showoff (Andy Samberg). And maybe there's too much mindless action near the end, and too contrived and conventional a finale. But the good outweighs the mediocre here, by quite a margin.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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