|James and the Giant Peach (Special Edition)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 03 October 2000|
In 1993, the delightful, unique "A Nightmare Before Christmas" briefly re-established stop-motion animation as a major story-telling technique. Even before that film was released, its director Henry Selick had reunited much of the movie's crew to begin production on this adaptation of Roald Dahl's much-loved James and the Giant Peach. But while this one is often charming, as well as handsomely designed and animated, it lacks the excitement and novelty of "Nightmare." It's even a little plodding at times, partly because much of it -- necessarily -- takes place on top and inside of the giant peach of the title.
The movie opens as live action. James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry) lives an idyllic life by the English seashore with his parents, who promise to take him to New York, but they're eaten up by a giant rhinoceros (offscreen, fortunately), and James sent to live with his greedy, hideous aunts, Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes), who work him like a slave and crush his every dream. When he befriends a wayward spider, they try to crush that, too. But then James meets a strange man (Pete Postlethwaite) who gives him a bag of glowing green crocodile tongues, promising him that they will work magic. But James spills the bag at the base of a dried-up old peach tree in front of his aunts' chilly house.
At once, the tree sprouts a peach that grows and grows until it is 20 feet in diameter. The aunts shoo James away and begin selling tickets, but one night, he eats a bit of the giant fruit. He hears a noise from within the peach, and as he crawls up a tunnel in it to investigate, he turns into a stop-motion figure. Inside he finds six friendly bugs: the violin-playing Grasshopper (Simon Callow), the pugnacious Centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), the matronly Ladybug (Jane Leeves), a nervous Earthworm (David Thewlis), a Glowworm that actually looks more like a beetle (Miriam Margolyes again), and the very Spider (Susan Sarandon) James had befriended earlier.
James has not gotten smaller; the bugs, thanks to the crocodile tongues, have gotten larger, and can speak. The bugs and James break the peach free, which flattens the aunts as it rolls into the sea and drifts away on the tide. The rest of the movie tells how James and his friends get the peach from England to New York, with a detour to a frozen wasteland. But the adventures and dangers are not over after they take the big peach to the Big Apple.
Bless Roald Dahl: there are very few Life Lessons in "James and the Giant Peach," and those that are there are slid in subtly. Primarily, the film is an adventure movie for children, with witty lines for adults (when the Centipede leaps off the peach at one point, the Grasshopper gasps "he's committed pesticide!"), and occasional okay but unmemorable songs by Randy Newman.
a graceful movie, but it's also somewhat slow-paced. Most of the
animation sequence is set upon the giant peach; even though a kind of
walkway wraps around it, and even though there's a cozy cave inside,
it's still a very confined space upon which to set an adventure.
Director Selick and his writers, Karey Kirkpatrick ("The Rescuers Down
Under"), Jonathan Roberts ("The Lion King") and Steve Bloom ("The Sure
Thing"), try to vary the setting as much as possible, but for an
animated film, there's a lot of talk, and things slow down as the peach
is carried over the Atlantic by a flock of seagulls.