James and the Giant Peach (1996)

Posted by on Dec 29, 2011 in Welcome to Our World | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Enormous insects and child slave labor.

Brought to us from the same director and stop-motion animators as The Nightmare Before Christmas, this Disney-released children’s flick is a fuzzy, tasty treat. This mixed action film begins in live action, which is actually more cartoonish and campy than the animated portion, but is fortunately only 20 minutes long. As it unfolds, we are introduced to James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry), a happy child with a dreamy imagination nurtured by his loving parents. As is typical of a Roald Dahl story, the film turns bleak rather quickly as an angry rhinoceros gobbles up his parents in a mere 35 seconds, the narrator tells us. Before their unfortunate demise, James’ parents planned to move from their sea-side abode to New York City, “where dreams come true.”

After their death, James is forced to James3live with his domineering Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker (Miriam Marolyes and Joanna Lumley), who live in a dark, slanted old shack on a hill that resembles something from a Vincent Price flick. Under the “care” of his aunts, James spends his days doing intensive chores and slave labor that makes sweatshops look like candy stores. In his off time, when his aunts don’t beat him or force him to eat fish heads, James befriends a spider and dreams about escaping to New York (not like Snake Pliskin). One fortunate day, a strange man (Pete Postlethwaite, who also narrates) brings the answer to James’ prayers in the form of a paper bag filled with magical crocodile tongues, boiled for two days in the skull of a dead witch, young monkey fingers, a pig gizzard, a parrot beak, and three spoonfuls of sugar. When used (how vague is that?), “marvelous things will happen.” But, if they get away, they’ll work their magic on whatever they come in contact with.

Thus, the magic escapes into the lawn and makes a giant peach grow on a dead tree. While his aunts look to financially prosper from the fruit, James finds it to be his ticket to freedom. Thus, he enters the peach and joins six friends: the soft-spoken spider (Susan Sarandon), the motherly ladybug (Jane Leeves), the cultured grasshopper (Simon Callow), the hard-of-hearing glowworm (Margolyes), the phobic earthworm (David Thewlis), and the hard-nosed centipede (Richard Dreyfuss). Thus begins the sometimes beautiful and always fun stop-motion animation.

As the group begins the voyage to  New York in the peach, they encounter such obstacles as a shark and ghost pirates (one resembling Jack Skellington). The flick also includes songs by Randy Newman such as the melon collic My Name is James, song-and-dance number Eating the Peach, sing-a-long tune Family, and Newsies-esque That’s the Life.

The stop-motion animation, so wonderfully mastered decades earlier by Ray Harryhausen, revisits the famed success of Nightmare, but isn’t quite as unique or awe-inspiring. That said, it’s still a wonderful visual spectacle by director Henry Selick that is unfortunately only one hour and 15 minutes in length. With an all-star cast of voices and dreamingly imaginative story, you’ll find James and the Giant Peach to be quite a juicy treat.

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