James and the Giant Peach (Blu-ray)
Let me start off by saying, I get no pleasure picking at movies targeted towards children. In fact, it’s one of those things where if I see my 6-year old likes it, I tend to like it as well. But as a parent, you might want to know if that movie your kid is watching won’t drive you insane. So on that note, let’s begin.
I remember reading JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH around the second grade. Roald Dahl was such an exceptional and creative mind when it came to writing interesting stories for children. While at times they were a bit more terrifying, they also took you on an adventure that had some sense of hope waiting for you on the other side. Director Henry Selick hit it out of the park when he helmed NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. It was a film that not only kids could enjoy, but their parents could as well. Not to mention it will also be a film that stands the test of time. After the success of that film, Selick decided to move onward with JAMES with producer Tim Burton in hopes to spark more of that same magic.
While JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is certainly a heart-warming, magical journey, it doesn’t seem to entertain on the same level as CHRISTMAS. In all honesty, at times it might border on slightly annoying. I guess this all really depends on how many musical numbers you can take. The characters in this film are awfully cheery, and even when they aren’t cheery; they still want to express their emotion in song. Plus, it’s hard to beat Danny Elfman’s voice. Here’s a simple equation when it comes to comparing actors who can carry a tune: Elfman > Richard Dreyfuss.
After viewing this film, I also have to wonder if Henry Selick has an awful family, as he is drawn to direct movies that have poor family structure. In NIGHTMARE, Sally’s only parent figure was a cruel old man. In CORALINE, the title characters parents neglected her, and then she in turn stumbled across a world with even worse parents with button eyes. Then there’s JAMES, who sadly looses his parents when a Rhino eats them. I know rhinos are known to charge, but I’m pretty sure I never caught anything on the Discovery Channel about rhinos dining on human flesh. But this is Dahl’s “fairytale” not mine.
When James’ parents pass away, he goes to his two scary looking Aunts (Joanna Lumley & Miriam Margolyes) who look more like Christopher Walken as the headless horseman in SLEEPY HOLLOW. They basically treat James as a Cinderella type–making him do chores, etc. All James does is dream about going to New York. His parents were planning to go there to visit the top of the Empire State Building before they passed away. The harassment from the Aunts continues and only gets worse when a giant peach grows from a tree in their yard. Soon after they find the peach, an old man (Pete Postlethwaite) visits James and gives him these hot green glowing worms. Obviously, these are no ordinary worms. Next thing you know, James is running after one of the little worms and into a hole in the giant peach. This hole animates him and leaves him in the care of a group of insects: Centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), Miss Spider (Susan Sarandon), Earthworm (David Thewlis), and Ladybug (Jane Leeves). Sadly, this is where it gets annoying. The songs start to break out more consistently now and the insects aren’t the coolest bunch. The only one that I found tolerable was Sarandon and this is simply because I love hearing her voice. Is that awkward? Nah. The rest of the film consists of the crew taking the trip to New York and grow as friends along the way.
One thing I really love about Selick’s film is the use of stop motion animation. This is one of my favorite techniques used in film, especially when it comes to a children’s story. FANTASTIC MR. FOX is a perfect example, although that is not Selick’s work. It does show you what that world is truly capable of, beyond the days of NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. The animation is fantastic, but I feel like the story wasn’t fleshed out as it could have been. I was stuck feeling like the film relied too much on the musical numbers and not enough on the dialogue. For those of you who are huge fans of the book, I highly recommend this. To me, it wonderfully transfers the pages to the big screen. For the rest of you, unless you are a Dahl or Selick fan, you might want to leave this one to the youngest age bracket.
Video: I expected animated scenes to shine through on this Blu-ray and they did, to an extent. But the real life scenes were disappointing, making for an overall dull transfer.
Audio: Nice and loud. I often had to turn it down during the musical numbers, not because I was mildly disinterested, but it was the fact that it was just so loud. There are also a few times when I had to turn the volume up to hear the dialogue. (5.1 DTS-HD).
Production Featurette (4:34) Something good for fans of Selick and the film. Interesting and short, but sadly no new footage here.
“Good News” Music Video (2:26): Just an old video with Randy Newman singing over clips of the film. Not my idea of “Good News”.