It's summertime again, and time for Camp North Star to begin preparing for the season's events and holidaymakers, but first they have to rouse themselves, and who better to help with that than the camp leader, Tripper (Bill Murray)? He drags himself out of bed and begins his wake-up call, and soon the whole team are at the buses and ready to pick up the kids who will be staying with them over the next few weeks, but as usual there are problems. Nothing that can't be ironed out with a few stern or kind words, of course - but one kid is not so sure...
In its day, Meatballs was one of the most successful Canadian movies of all time, not bad for something that was planned as a simple cash-in on Animal House, only with a broader age range in mind. Therefore, as his Saturday Night Live co-presenter John Belushi had been, Murray was hired for what became the lead, and played pretty much the same scene stealer here, complete with a nifty line in near the knuckle humour and even his own big, inspirational speech near the end as the rivalry for the characters here was not between fraternity houses but with the more expensive camp nearby.
Ivan Reitman was your man at the helm, some five years before he and his star made such an impact with Ghostbusters, but there was quite a body of Canadian talent here, including Harold Ramis as one of the writers. That said, although it struck a chord with many at the time, most of those Meatballs appealed to had already been through the summer camp experience, and the mixture of pranks and camaraderie that distinguished the rather basic humour would mean more to those who recognised the butt of the jokes. It did usher in a whole raft of low budget comedies often with a sexual theme, but otherwise this looks fairly tame in comparison with what came later.
There's no nudity, for example, and the stongest swearing anyone comes out with is "shit", so it was up to Murray to provide the kind of gags in the dialogue that made you think what you were watching was a lot more grown up than it actually was. Without his contribution, the basic arrangement here would have passed muster as a Disney movie, as Tripper even got his own little friend in Rudy (Chris Makepeace), a lonely boy who wishes to leave until in a sentimental subplot his new idol persuades him that hanging around will be character building. Thus the type of self-improvement lesson that would go with many an educational drama out of this nation was well to the fore.
Apart from Murray, there were a few faces that you might well have recognised, depending on how much North American big or small screen work you'd seen from this period. The unmistakably mustachioed mug of Harvey Atkin was the head counselor, and a running gag saw him wake up in increasingly unlikely spots, although for cult movie fans the best sight in this would be Kristine DeBell, once notorious for her debut in the hardcore Alice in Wonderland but one of the few from that background to make a decent go at a mainstream career. Tripper was by far the best personality in this, offering respite from the nerd jokes and sexual frustration, and didn't the filmmakers know it, giving Murray every chance they could to bask in the limelight, although his overly aggressive pursuit of fellow counselor Roxanne (Kate Lynch) verged on harrassment. But if Meatballs wasn't exactly hilarious, it was at least goodnatured if rather elementary for what became such a hit. Music by Elmer Bernstein.