'Cloudy With Meatballs' ain't no 'Giant Peach'

A scene from "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs."

Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 12:12 p.m.

2010 promises to be a great year for movies on DVD.


Nate Rates It:

"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" – Watch it
"James and the Giant Peach" – Rent it

The year starts off with a strong January. Some titles to look for in the next few weeks include Oscar contender "The Hurt Locker," sci-fi noodle-scratcher "Moon," dance-fever epic remake "Fame," plus "Whiteout," "Michael Jackson's This is It," "Amelia," "The Surrogates," "Whip It" and "Gamer."

January is also big for horror nuts like myself. Rob Zombie's "Halloween 2," space horror ghoulfest "Pandorum," "Saw VI," (to those not good at Roman numerals, that's "Saw 6") and the zom-com hit "Zombieland."

I won't be able to review them all, but I'll give it a go.

In February, look for "Couples Retreat," "The Time Traveler's Wife," "Ponyo" and "A Serious Man." As the year rolls on, there will be "The Princess and the Frog," "2012," "Precious," "Avatar," "New Moon," "Where the Wild Things Are," "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and my most eagerly anticipated film, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox."

So we've got a lot of good stuff headed our way.

However, it ain't here yet.

2010 opens with a thud with only two major releases - the latest "Final Destination" movie and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" - neither of which is anything to shout about. I won't be reviewing "Final Destination" because those movies (while I enjoy the carnage) are pretty much all the same: Kids think they are going to die, but they don't. Then they think they are going to live, but they don't.

So instead, let's talk the good, the bad and the ugly of "Cloudy."

This is a colorful animated feature about a bookish scientist who invents a wonderful machine that can turn water into any food he chooses. He's a bit of a loser who is expected to get into the sardine business and stop doing crazy experiments and inventing things such as spray-on shoes and a machine to make animals talk.

His newest invention makes him a local hero, as food literally rains from the sky. And then everything goes pear-shaped when the machine goes rogue and the Earth is pelted with giant, destructive foodstuffs.

The Good: "Cloudy" has a distinctive and cool animation style, refreshing in its cartoonishness. It's fun to look at. And the voice cast is top-notch. The leads are the very funny Bill Hader, Anna Faris and Andy Samberg. They are backed by James Caan, Bruce Campbell, Will Forte, Neil Patrick Harris, Lauren Graham and Mr. T, who - for the record - is still pitying fools. Good to know some things never change.

The Bad: While the children's book is legendary for its grace and charm, the movie lacks that special quality. And there's a good reason for that - giant food just isn't that interesting. A picture book a few hundred words in length is one thing, but a full-length movie is another, and so the story is greatly expanded beyond its natural length, to uninspired results.

The Ugly: I have no idea, after watching it twice, what happens in the middle part of the film. It's goofy and nonsensical and jumps around without ever making a lick of sense. Why exactly would a foodmaker have artificial intelligence anyway, other than to go haywire and put Earth in food-related peril?

As good as the movie looks, there is absolutely nothing going on upstairs.

In a day and age when grown-ups have been spoiled by Pixar, Miyazake and "Shrek," we come to expect kids movies that deliver on an adult level. This movie lacks that quality.

I'd love to be able to tell you "if you see only one movie this year about giant food, make it 'Cloudy with a Chance,' " but I can't. If you just have to see a movie about giant food, check out 1996's "James and the Giant Peach," which is funny, weird and features giant bugs as well.

James is an unfortunate young waif living under the thumb of his wicked, cruel aunts (the kind of aunts one only finds in children's literature, which seems to have a strong anti-aunt prejudice.) Until some magic makes a peach tree blossom, and James escapes on an adventure in a giant peach filled with intelligent talking insects and arachnids. The film was an early work of Henry Selick, and lays the groundwork in style and tone for the brilliant "Coraline."

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