Disney/Buena Vista | 1996 | 79 mins. | Rated G
Back in the mid nineties when I read that Disney would be releasing a theatrical version of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, my first thought was, “what a perfect pair.” Throughout their long history, Disney’s films have often involved departed or largely absent parents whose departure has allowed the children to become heroes in charge of their own destiny. Conversely, British writer Roald Dahl always made children the heroes of his of his stories.
James and the Giant Peach wipes out the nasty aunts with so much glee, you can’t help but root for our little hero. The film opens with a pastel, soft-focus live action sequence in which young James (Paul Terry) lives an idyllic life by the seaside with his parents. Then all of a sudden, both parents are gobbled up by a giant rhinoceros.
James goes from a life filled with love to one of utter misery, when he’s shipped off to Aunt Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) and Aunt Spiker (Joanna Lumley), who work him like a slave and mock him constantly. While the terrible treatment fails to rob James of his essential kindness, he fantasizes about visiting New York City, a place his parents had told him a lot about.
One day, a mysterious old man (Pete Postlethwaite) gives James a bag of glowing green crocodile tongues, promising that everything will be all right. James drops some of them near a dead tree; almost immediately, a peach begins growing. Soon, it grows to epic proportions. His aunts sell tickets to see the enormous fruit, but a starving James eats a bite of the peach, along with a crocodile tongue. That act unleashes the peaches magic and marks the films switch from live-action to animation.
Inside the peach, the now animated James encounters the six bugs who will become his new family—Grasshopper (voice of Simon Callow), Centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), Ladybug (Jane Leeves), Glowworm (Miriam Margolyes), Spider (Susan Sarandon) and Earthworm (David Thewlis). They are left hanging on for dear life, as as the peach eventually rolls down to the sea and they set sail for Gotham.
On their journey they must combat a fierce mechanical diesel-fueled shark, a pirate ship full of ghosts (captained by Jack Skellington himself, of The Nightmare Before Christmas!), the wicked aunts, and the evil rhino that killed James’ parents. It’s during the across the Atlantic voyage that the voyage that the voices of the actors really shine. Simon Callow gives the grasshopper a gentlemanly reserve ditto Jane Leeves the prim Ladybug, David Thewlis the Earthworm and Margolyes, who doubles as the sweet Glowworm. The most memorable of the group have to be Richard Dreyfuss as the wisecracking, cigar loving Centipede. And of course, my personal favorite, Susan Sarandon as a Spider so Garbo-like she even says at one point, “I prefer to be alone.”
Both the film and the score (composed by Randy Newman), probably reach their highpoint with “We’re Family,” a song about family, acceptance and love as the peach sails through space while stars, moons and planets fly by. Director Henry Selick (Coraline) then pulls back the camera, to show James and the rest of the characters hanging from a giant, cosmic mobile. That shot serves to reinforce the main theme of all the characters being part of one family.
Despite the notable use of “We’re Family,” my one complaint about James and the Giant Peach is the score. Admitedly, it doesn’t represent the best of Newman’s work, and I just had to wonder who made the decision that every Disney animated film, no matter who’s doing the animation, has to have a share of songs. For the most part, the songs are forgettable and occasionally interrupt the pacing of the film.
That issue aside, James and the Giant Peach is a wonderful film, and remains woefully underrated. Hopefully, when it makes its high definition debut people will add this gem of a story to their personal collections.
James and the Giant Peach arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 video presentation. Those who have seen the film before know that the movie is very stylistic and features plenty of grain and is far from the clearest looking of movies. However, while the film is heavy on the grain, there is also strong detail. Colors are quite good, if a tad subdued at times, but very pleasant overall. The film’s black levels are quite strong throughout. Overall the image can’t be considered reference quality, but it’s a step above the standard definition DVD.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is loud, engaging, and a huge step-up from the previous special editions Dolby Digital 5.1 track from several years ago. Dialogue levels are appropriate and provide a great use of surround sound throughout the film. My rear speakers were in constant use, while the center speaker joined in at all the appropriate times.
Also included are French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital audio tracks. Optional subtitles include English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.
James and the Giant Peach is regrettably light on the special features:
Behind-the-Scenes (5 minutes): Burton and cast discuss the film briefly in a few clips that showcase the flick. Filmed prior to the movies release.
“Good News” Music Video (2 minutes): The song from the flick is performed by Randy Newman. I wasn’t a fan of the song more than a decade ago, and I’m still not.
Still Frame Gallery View pictures from the film under the following categories: Concept Art, Puppets, Behind the Scenes, Live-Action
** BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVES **
“Spike The Aunts” Interactive Game: This exclusive provides kids the opportunity to bash the aunts from the movie by hitting the enter key on your remote. I was bored after 30 seconds.
Finally, a DVD Copy is available for your viewing pleasure. Strangely enough, no Digital Copy is available.
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