The Meatballs franchise is a series of comedy films revolving around teenagers attending summer camp, and getting into all sorts of crazy shenanigans at the behest of rebellious authority figures.
The series originated as a 1979 film directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Bill Murray. Rudy Gerner (Chris Makepeace) is sent to a summer camp, North Star, by his overbearing father, where he meets a motley crew of other teenagers being led by head counselor Tripper Harrison (Murray). Harrison is the head of a group of councillors-in-training at the camp, and takes every opportunity to make practical jokes at the expense of the other employees.
Over the course of the summer, Rudy and Tripper bond, while several of the other teens get into hilarious situations and relationships. The summer culminates in a competition against a rival camp, Mohawk, who are trying to defend their undefeated record in various sports. Tripper subsequently leads the teens to victory by inspiring them... even if it doesn't matter in the end.
The film was followed by several sequels (most In Name Only), none of which featured Murray or any of the rest of the original cast:
- Meatballs II (1984): Two competing camps, Sasquatch and Patton, are drawn into an end-of-summer boxing match to see who will "own" the nearby lake both camps are situated near. At the same time, an alien is left on Earth by his parents and is adopted by the kids, who help him understand the planet's culture.
- Meatballs III: Summer Job (1986): Several years after the events of the first film, Rudy is now a young man, and goes to work at a river resort for the summer. At the same time, an adult film star is killed in a freak accident, but is denied entrance into the afterlife until she can help someone on Earth. The star, Roxy, elects to help Rudy lose his virginity, while he has to deal with an assortment of colourful characters during the summer.
- Meatballs 4: To The Rescue (1992): A summer camp, facing serious financial difficulties, rehires one of their former waterskiing instructors (played by Corey Feldman) to drum up attendance for the upcoming season. The camp also has to deal with a rival (representing a nearby camp) who is trying to buy them out, which leads to a showdown between the two camps.
This film contains examples of:
- Battle Chant: A non-military version of this. The Camp North Star summer camp is losing badly to their rivals Camp Mohawk. Head Counsellor Tripper Harrison gives the Camp North Star members a rousing speech including the slogan "It just doesn't matter", and by the end they're all chanting it.
- Big Eater: Both Fink and "the Stomach" in the hot dog eating contest.
- Burping Contest: Tripper has a friendly belching contest with Rudy.
- Butt-Monkey: Morty and Spaz.
- Rudy is mostly treated as this off-camera. He gets better.
- Cheaters Never Prosper: Averted. Once we get to the Olympiad, it becomes clear that Camp Mohawk has won every previous competition by cheating whenever they could. The kids of Camp North Star eventually get wise to it, sabotaging one attempt to throw the stackers race and —since there's obviously nobody checking for this sort of thing— even doing some cheating of their own in the swim race by dropping a fish down the Mohawk competitor's swimsuit.
- Chekhov's Gun: Rudy and Tripper bonding as early morning joggers. Rudy's marathon win against the Camp Mohawk ringer gives Camp North Star its victory over the hated rich-kid's camp.
- Coming of Age: Rudy is the loner geek kid suffering at the camp who learns to accept the challenges of growing up, instead of withdrawing from the world. Also, he wins a ton of peanuts from Tripper in a poker game.
- "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: The main crux of the third film is that Roxy is trying to help Rudy get laid. However, the first time Roxy helps him meet a hot blonde who is practically throwing herself at him, Rudy refuses on the grounds that "I want someone who likes me for me." Roxy calls him out on this.
- Deadpan Snarker: Tripper, who takes every opportunity to snark at his fellow councillors and the campers.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Spaz, whenever he's around busty Wendy. During a canoeing trip, Spaz drops his paddle while he's distracted by Wendy sunbathing.
- Eating Contest: There's a hot-dog eating contest as part of the competition between the two camps.
- Failed a Spot Check: At the end, Tripper moves Morty's bed with Morty in it to a raft on the lake. Morty doesn't notice until he falls into the water. Morty just waking up might explain some grogginess, but waking up to the sky should have been an eye opener.
- Fat Best Friend: Fink is this to Spaz, of the Type A variety.
- First Girl Wins: In III, Rudy eventually realizes he loves Wendy, and they decide to begin a relationship at the end of the film.
- Food Slap: Some bullying Camp Mohawk counselors take Spaz's milkshake and pour it on his head.
- Ghost Story: Tripper tells a ghost story (the urban legend "The Hook") to the children around a campfire. At the end, he reveals that he is wearing a hook, causing the kids to run off screaming.
- Groin Attack: One of the woman Rudy tries to seduce in the third film knees him in the groin to get him to stop his advances.
- Heavy Sleeper: Morty sleeps so soundly that one of the running gags of the movie was to move him and his bed into strange places.
- In Name Only: The second film was a Dolled-Up Installment shot under the name Space Kid while the third and fourth films threw out the concept of the relationships between the campers and the counselors in favor of ripping off the Porky's franchise. The third reuses one of the characters from the original (Rudy) and briefly explains why Tripper isn't around, but is set at a waterskiing resort and has a completely different cast. The fourth film also has yet another different set of competing camps. This could be explained by the fact that the second and fourth films originally began life as different projects that were retooled to fit under the "Meatballs" banner.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Tripper takes pity on Rudy after seeing how much he's struggling to fit in at camp and takes him under his wing.
- Mystery Meat:Tripper:Here's an update on tonight's dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal. The winner of tonight's Mystery Meat contest is Jeffrey Corbin who guessed "some kind of beef."
- Pom-Pom Girl: They don't have any uniforms, but during the basketball game, several female counselors get pom-poms and loyally dance and cheer for their team no matter how far behind they get. Several Camp Mohawk counselors wear actual cheerleading uniforms in that scene while cheering for their own camp, but they show a nastier side when they cheat at the following activities.
- Put on a Bus: Tripper, as of the third film. When Rudy goes to the marina to work for him, he learns (via a voiceover from a soundalike and a letter) that Tripper sold the marina in order to fulfill his dream... of managing an all-female wrestling team.
- Rousing Speech: Tripper's terrific "it just doesn't matter" rant rouses the entire camp to victory, even while emphasizing the superiority of their opponents and underscoring the pointlessness of the game.
- Same Story, Different Names: Both the second and fourth films deal with a summer camp that is besieged by a rival that is trying to buy them out, and the climax of both films centering around a tournament (a boxing match in II, a waterskiing competition in 4) that will decide the fate of the camp, just like the Olympiad competition in the original film.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: A lot of that going on between the guys and girls' counselors, but the movie focuses on the crazy relationship between Tripper and Roxanne.
- Slobs Versus Snobs: The slobs from Camp North Star versus the snobs from Camp Mohawk. Tripper gives an iconic speech just before the climactic showdown admitting that beating the snobs won't matter, since even in defeat they'd still be rich.
- Spiritual Successor: To Animal House. It helps that Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis worked on that film as well.
- Strictly Formula: All three sequels fall into the same formula of following an outsider who goes to a summer camp, meets a cast of wild characters, and gets roped into a competition between two rival camps to see who will dominate a summer-end sports competition.
- Summer Campy: The first one is arguably the funniest Summer Camp movie yet made.
- During the basketball game between the North Star campers versus the Mohawk guys: "Our guys don't look so good."
- Also: "Well, the zone is not working..."
- The Voice: Tripper does double-duty as the P.A. announcer for the camp. Thank God Tripper is played by Bill Murray.Tripper: Important announcement, some hunters have been seen in the woods near Piney Ridge Trail and the Fish and Game Commission has raised the legal kill limit on campers to three. So if you're hiking today, please wear something bright and keep low. Good luck.Tripper: Attention, campers. Arts and crafts has been canceled due to bad taste. All junior girls are now junior boys. And Nurse DeMarco says that raccoon fever epidemic is officially over! Hey! You on the water skis! (guy on the skis freaks out and falls into the lake)