Monday, June 20, 2016

Movie Review: "James and the Giant Peach" (1996)

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Movie"James and the Giant Peach"
Director: Henry Selick
Year: 1996
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 19 minutes

After the death of his parents, James (Paul Terry) is forced to live with his wicked aunts Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes). They treat him as if he were their servant rather than their nephew as he is forced to live in complete misery. All of this changes when a mysterious old man (Pete Postlethwaite) gives James a bag of magic crocodile tongues that makes a giant peach grow on a tree outside Spiker and Sponge's house. James crawls inside the peach, which is inhabited by several different bugs. The peach rolls into the ocean and James begins an adventure across the sea and far away from his evil aunts.

Based on the book by author Roald Dahl, "James and the Giant Peach" is a part live action, part stop-motion animation adaptation directed by Henry Selick, who is best known for directing "The Nightmare Before Christmas." It tells the tale of an orphan boy name James, played by Paul Terry, who is forced to live with his evil aunts Spiker and Sponge, played by Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margolyes, after his parents are killed by a rhinoceros. Roald Dahl often includes these dark yet fanciful moments in his books, which are then transferred to film, and this movie is no different. Dahl sure loves to make parents die in his books. Though the movie does lighten up a few aspects of the story by removing some deaths that occur in the book, the death of James' parents still sets the tone for things to come.

One day, James meets a mysterious old man, played in a short but important role by by Pete Postlethwaite, who gives him some little magic glowing green crocodile tongues, which he assures James will help him with his problem. When James drops his crocodile tongues near an old tree, it starts to grow a peach that gets bigger and bigger and bigger. After escaping the evil clutches of his aunts for a brief moment, James eventually crawls inside the peach where he meets some giant bugs and other creepy crawlies, who have also been brought to bigger life, changed by the crocodile tongues. These bugs include: the fast-talking, cigar smoking, beret wearing Centipede, voiced by Richard Dreyfuss; Spider, voiced by Susan Sarandon, the same spider that James saves from being killed by his aunt; the sweet Ladybug, voiced by Jane Leeves; Grasshopper, voiced by Simon Callow; Earthworm, voiced by David Thewlis; and Glowworm, voiced by the aforementioned Miriam Margolyes, who pulls double voiceover duty in this movie. The peach eventually rolls off the tree and into the ocean in an across-the-sea adventure to, where else, but New York City, the place James's parents always dreamt of going.

Stop-motion animation is a great medium for a story like this as it offers a unique look at the characters. What are generally just bugs become far more than that. The animation is superb. We love films like this, and here, you can see within its construction that it was made with love and care for Dahl's dark-but-surprisingly uplifting story. This is also a musical just like "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Though I personally grew up watching this movie and can remember many of the songs, we have to say, we are not overly thrilled with any of them. It's not that they are bad tunes, but they are not as catchy as something from "The Lion King" or any other Disney venture. We also don't love the voice of young Paul Terry, but we'll give him a pass since he was just a kid at the time. There are many good things about "James and the Giant Peach." The filmmakers have added some exciting, perilous moments to aid in their storytelling, but it does tend to drag at times. It's a decent choice for any family that wants to watch something a little different, and though we do enjoy this adaptation, we wouldn't mind seeing someone else take a crack at making something a little more faithful to its source material.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
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One year ago, we were watching: "The Wind Rises"

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