James and the Giant Peach review by Jackass Tom

James and the Giant Peach is based off of a Roald Dahl book of the same name. Other Dahl books that have been adapted into film are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s ironic that in days of CGI, two Dahl books have been animated through stop-motion techniques; Fox and Giant Peach. But the two movies couldn’t feel more different.

Where Fantastic Mr. Fox is a fairly light adventure, with themes of not compromising one’s nature, James and the Giant Peach is a much darker tale of dreams and goals. It starts in live action with James, an orphan who lost his parents to a rhino accident and is now living as an orphan with his evil Aunt’s Spiker (who resembles a soulless skeleton) and Sponge (who is more of a pudgy witch). He gets the Cinderella treatment, as he is relegated to their personal servant. One day James receives a magical concoction which finds its way (TRIP!) to a dead peach tree, and magically a giant peach grows. As James climbs into the pit to escape his aunts the movie switches to creepy-crawly stop-motion.

James befriends a cast of grimy characters in the peach: a spider, a centipede, a grasshopper, a glowworm, and an earthworm. Together, they embark on a journey across the Atlantic to New York City using the peach as their boat.

Darkness is nothing new to director Henry Selick. Before James and the Giant Peach, he directed The Nightmare before Christmas. Both movies were collaborations with producer Tim Burton, so the outcome shouldn’t be a surprise. But also the source material for James and the Giant Peach isn’t exactly a bright and shiny peach. It has been on library banned lists a number of times for various reasons, including encouraged violence and bad language used by the centipede. But of course the Selick and Burton are willing to take it that extra step. All scenes at the house where he lives with Spiker and Sponge are filmed in near darkness, with multiple elements of German Expressionism taken right out of Caligari. The house they live in is black, the sky is dark, the trees are barren of leaves and life. As the peach begins to grow it pops off the screen with its bright contrasting orange color (a beacon of hope and escape). One of the legs of their journey even has them run into a “Jack Skellington” look alike crew of dead pirates; a nod to the previous Selick/Burton film A Nightmare Before Christmas. The story matches more to a Grimm fairy tale than it does any previous Dahl adaptation.

Despite being a Disney treat and having a very bright cheerful DVD cover, this film is most likely (or at least better) geared towards adults with child like taste. There are multiple songs in the film (most of which I believe were also in Dahl’s book) for those who like that sort of thing. Overall the movie feels well executed but slightly awkward. The idea of a boy living in a peach with insects is … well let’s just say its odd. Its probably one of the tougher Dahl stories to bite into unless it was a book you fondly remember growing up. I read through all of the Wonka novels and one or two more but not this one, so it came off as an odd story. Also as the movie switches back into live action in NYC, it loses quite a bit of magic. The aunt’s creepy house in England was very well done and artistic but the New York set felt almost like a cheaper afterthought.

5 out of 10 Jackasses
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