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Published Sep. 17, 2009

For more than 30 years, children have read about the fictional town of Chewandswallow, where it doesn't rain cats and dogs, it rains meatballs and cheeseburgers and pancakes. Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation have brought this classic tale to the big screen, and in 3-D, no less.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, the movie, is not so much based on as it is suggested by the beloved 1978 book of the same name, written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett. Rather than stick to the original plotline of a grandfather telling a bedtime story about the unexplained weather phenomena of Chewandswallow, the film centers on the exploits of hapless inventor Flint Lockwood, voiced by Saturday Night Live'sBill Hader.

Flint's latest crazy idea is a machine that can convert water to food. After an electrical accident, his gadget is fired into the atmosphere, where it stays and causes clouds to produce whatever culinary delight is programmed into it from Flint's lab. Suddenly the town, once the tasteless sardine capital of the world, is deluged by flavor and variety falling from the sky.

Cue Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), Chewandswallow's new weathergirl, whose nervousness about the job causes her to make a series of painfully bad puns (meatier shower, poultry in motion).

Sam and Flint have more in common than they realize, which makes for cute animated chemistry. There are plenty of creative and hysterical moments, such as a scene showing Flint's previously failed inventions (spray-on shoes, rat-birds). When things with the machine go awry and Chewandswallow is at the mercy of a giant spaghetti tornado, it's scary in an acid-trip sort of way.

On the other hand, the 3-D is unnoticeable except for the occasional twinge of pain caused by your glasses. Flint's relationships with both Sam and his disappointed father (James Caan) are predictable; Mr. Lockwood hides his emotions under his abnormally thick eyebrows. And near the end I found myself thinking it was a bit too long for an animated flick, although it's only an hour and a half. Still, Cloudy is entertaining and funny, managing to retain most of the charm of the book in a fresh way. You'll leave the theater feeling close to full.

Mina Asayesh-Brown, a St. Petersburg High School student, is movie and TV critic for tb-two*, the Times' new newspaper by and for high school students.


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Grade: B

Directors:Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Cast: Voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell

Rating: PG; brief mild language

Running time: 90 min.