Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is packed with gags and gastronomic catastrophe

Scene by scene gag by gag the funniest movie of the year just might be Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs an absolutely delightful computer-animated comedy based on the children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett. Written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who helped create the cult TV favourite Clone High the pair has given Meatballs a gag-per-minute ratio unseen since the glory days of The Simpsons. And they sustain it for a full 90 minutes which is more than The Simpsons Movie can say for itself.

Lord and Miller even give the story heart — assuming of course that your idea of heart involves a sardine fisherman using a “monkey-thought translator” to tell his son he’s proud of him. (Yes a similar device appeared earlier this summer in Up. It’s funnier here.)

That son is Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) a hapless inventor whose oddball creations have a way of causing more trouble than they eliminate. But his latest brainstorm a machine that converts water into food looks like it might change his bad-luck streak when it accidentally flies into the sky and sends hundreds of cheeseburgers raining down on his hometown.

Egged on by a greedy mayor (Bruce Campbell) with visions of turning the tiny island of Swallow Falls into a tourist mecca Flint arranges a different foodstorm every day — not realizing that he’s setting the table for global disaster as the food falling from the sky grows bigger and bigger: meatballs the size of boulders pancakes big enough to crush a house and enough syrup to drown everyone.

Lord and Miller do some funny spoofs of disaster movie clichés (the Eiffel Tower becomes the toothpick in a giant club sandwich in the requisite montage of famous landmarks being destroyed) but they keep the Shrek­- style pop-culture references to a minimum. And even with the jokes falling faster and thicker than T-bone steaks the film finds time for a sweet romance to blossom between Flint and cute Weather News Network correspondent Sam Sparks (Anna Faris). In a nice reversal of convention it’s only when she puts on thick eyeglasses and pulls her hair into a nerdy ponytail that Flint finds her attractive. I also loved the daffy scene where Flint takes Sam on a tour of a castle he’s built for her in which everything is made of Jell-O including a copy of the Venus de Milo with her head on it and a copy of Michelangelo’s David also with her head on it.

So many inspired touches and I haven’t even mentioned the beautifully animated spaghetti tornado or how Flint’s flock of genetically mutated “ratbirds” keep attacking characters in the background of various scenes or the brilliant decision to have the climactic action sequence hinge on a kid trying to explain to his computer-illiterate parent how to add an attachment to an e-mail. And if you want to read the film as a subtle satire of American hyperconsumption you’re free to appreciate that side of it too. But watch out: It just might spoil your appetite.