Meatballs is a summer camp comedy wherein a bunch of stuff just happens without having the burden of an actual plot to drag it down. This is a movie about nothing years before there was ever a show about nothing. Tripper (Bill Murray) is the head councillor of a bunch of CITs (Councillors In Training) at Camp North Star in a piney-woods part of the country. There are a few stereotypes: The nerdy guy, the fat guy, the pretty girl, and the stuck-up guy, but the rest of the CITs are mostly just average joes. Though most of the camp staff get a few scenes to themselves, it's really centered on Tripper and his love-interest, Roxanne. But that can be misleading because the movie still isn't about them. Confused? Relax, the key is not to over think this one.
The fun part comes as the movie develops and anyone who's ever been involved in any kind of youth program starts to see something interesting happen. Meatballs was released in 1979 (or 80) so it came before a movement that became all consuming by about 1985, Youth Protection Training. Youth Protection Training (YPT) is designed to teach camp and youth program staff and volunteers how to identify, prevent, avoid, and respond appropriately to any kind of child abuse, endangerment, or neglect. Around '79 this was probably still a bewildering notion to the youth summer camp crowd. I didn't notice it in the movie either until I'd been through the training a few times. So I thought I'd do a little experiment.
Notepad in hand I started a tally, here's what I came up with:
One Adult/One Minor out of sight of others: 6 times
One Adult/Multiple Minors (not "2 deep" leadership): 2 times
Inappropriate Dress (youth and adults without shirts): 3 times
Cursing in front of Minors (including CITs): 5 times
Safety (un-inspected bus): 1 incident
Sexual Harassment: 2 incidents
Tasteless Joke (in front of minors): 1 incident
Alcohol on camp: 2 times
Does this stuff sound nit-picky? Some of it probably does. As I said it never occurred to staff or campers to watch out for this stuff before the big YPT push. But a few bad incidents are all it takes to make this a national issue. If Meatballs were a current movie and did the things that happened on screen, they'd probably be the bad guys or end up going to jail or at least get fired for what was just normal behavior at the time.
Now don't get me wrong, I think the movie is great and should be taken with a grain of salt. No kids were harmed nor were they meant to be. It's just a goofball movie that doesn't really go anywhere and doesn't have to to be entertaining. If you were ever on staff at a summer camp then you'll appreciate this movie even more. Enjoy.
P.S. Please don't confuse this with the Meatballs "franchise" made up of Meatballs 2, 3, and 4. Those movies were agressivly nitwitted and had nothing to do with the first one.