A word to the wise: Do not, under any circumstances, see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs without eating first. The gigantic pancakes, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and ears of corn that rain from the sky may wreak cataclysm on the poor citizens of a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, but the food is rendered in such beautiful, photorealistic detail - and in jawdropping 3D - that your stomach will be growling long before the end credits roll.
An uncommonly fleet and whimsical cartoon that embraces the freewheeling, anything-goes spirit of vintage animation, this adaptation of the beloved children's book by Judi and Ron Barrett is the rare kind of kiddie flick guaranteed to disarm anyone. Miami homeboy Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who co-wrote and co-directed, have paced the movie at cyclone speed and packed every frame with so many visual and aural gags that repeat viewings are almost mandatory. (Check out, for example, the names of the opportunistic businesses that pop up in the background after the food deluge turns the town into a tourist hot spot.)
Multiple viewings will also be highly pleasurable. The story of a crackpot inventor (voiced by Bill Hader) who creates a machine capable of turning water into food, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs initially feels a little too frantic, but you quickly learn to keep pace with the filmmaker's rhythms.
Aimed squarely at young children, the movie, which follows what happens when the town gets carried away with the wondrous invention, and the food raining down starts to grow and grow, imparts worthwhile lessons about gluttony, about being true to yourself and about chasing your dreams.
Mostly, though, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a joyful romp, devoid of the tiresome pop-culture references of the Shrek pictures and blissfully ignorant of the story formulas established by Pixar (and aped by countless, lesser imitators). This movie answers to no other, and Lord and Miller cheerfully follow their already-insane premise to its increasingly surreal resolution.
By film's end, you have huge roasted chickens threatening the hero (yes, the food becomes sentient), slices of pizza flying around like Tie Fighters, a fisherman trying to use a computer to send his first e-mail and Times Square being flattened by giant bagels. The psychedelic-era Beatles would have loved this film. So will Food Network addicts. Where's Masaharu Morimoto when you really need him?