Producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick team up again as
they did for 1993's THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Their latest film
called JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH features their claymation, as known as
stop-action, images that are their trademark. This time their vision
is exuberant and only infrequently morose. Here, as in THE WIZARD OF
OZ, the show begins and ends in a more traditional present. Roald
Dahl's book as adapted by Steven Bloom, Karey Kirkpatrick, Dennis
Potter, and Jonathan Roberts has the start and end as live action parts
but with sets surreal and Dickensian.
James Henry Trotter (voice and in person by Paul Terry) is a happy
English lad who lives an idyllic life with his parents by the seashore.
On day a rhinoceros eats his parents, and he is taken in by his wicked
Aunt Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) and Aunt Spiker (Joanna Lumley). They
treat him miserably, but his salvation is a Giant Peach that grows in
their yard. With a little advice from an old man played by Pete
Postlethwaite, he manages to use the peach to get to New York.
One day he crawls inside the peach and is transformed into a
claymation figure. Inside he meets a great bunch of bugs. The
Grasshopper (voice by Simon Callow) is an intellectual, The Ladybug
(voice by Glynis Johns) is a sweet older lady, The Spider (voice by
Susan Sarandon) is reserved and misunderstood, The Earthworm (voice by
David Thewlis) feels like he is always being used, and the best one of
all, The Centipede (voice by Richard Dreyfuss), is laugh central. At
first, James tells his new collection of friends, "I can't remember
what fun is for," but soon he is into the swing of things.
At first the cinematography (Hiro Narita) is full of harsh and
garish colors of purple, rose, and steel blues. As the jocular main
part of the film picks up, the cinematography (Pete Kozachik) makes an
abrupt transition and the colors switch to rich and lush oranges and
The show is more than just fantastical sights like the giant
mechanical shark that attacks them. It also has a plot and a clever
boy to guide it. What would you do if a shark attached your giant
peach? James and his companions figure out a way to lasso a flock of
seagulls. Bet you didn't think of that one! His secret is that, "When
I have a problem, my mom and dad taught me to look at it another way."
Amazing. A show where parents are the good guys and even have advice
worth pondering and even remembering.
The script is not only clever but funny. When asked about his
alleged navigating knowledge as a world traveler, The Centipede
confesses his experience is not much, "but I did live between two pages
of The National Geographic." Later he tells his fellow bugs, "Why
don't skeletons play music in church? Because they got no organs."
The show is full of musical numbers (Randy Newman), and this is
the weakest part of the film. They are not especially good, and Paul
Terry's voice is wonderful as James, but too weak and harsh for
singing. The musical numbers are quite slow and may bore some of the
more antsy kids in the audience.
This movie may not make headlines among all of the adults, but I
predict it will among the kids. As the reporter in the show says,
"Stop the presses. I got a new front page. Big Bugs in The Big
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH runs just 1:20. It is rated PG for some
potentially scary images of charging rhinos and creepy skeletons. I
was in a large audience and none of the kids seemed the least bit
scared; nevertheless, it could frighten kids under 5. Jeffrey and his
friend Sam, both almost 7, both liked the film and were never scared.
Like the much better TOY STORY, this film is highly imaginative and
willing to take lots of risks. It should inspire creativity and joy in
kids of all ages so I recommend it to everyone and award it ***.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes