If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Based on the 1961 novel by Roald Dahl, JAMES and the GIANT PEACH was a 1996 musical mixing live-action, stop-motion animation and computer-generated special effects. It was the much anticipated follow to THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS by the same team of Producer Tim Burton and Director Henry Selick. It took 22 soundstages and 3 years to make it, and now it fourteen years later it's being released in High Definition on Blu-ray for the first time.
James (Paul Terry), a young boy who is orphaned at a young age when his parents are eaten by a dark rhino! He is forced to live with his evil aunts, Spiker and Sponge (Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margolyes). They beat him, starve him, and use him to do all of the work on the deserted island that they live on. A mysterious stranger (Pete Postlethwaite, who's also the narrator) gives him the gift of a magical crocodile toungues which leads him to a peach which begins to grow, and GROW! James ventures into the giant peach were he befriends a group of really big (though not giant) talking bugs also dreaming of an ideal home: Mr. Old Green Grasshopper (Simon Callow), Mr. Centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), Mr. Earthworm (David Thewlis), Miss Spider (Susan Sarandon), Mrs. Ladybug (Jane Leeves), andGlowworm.
With his group of new friends James sets out after the dream he and his parents shared together: to visit New York City and The Empire State Building. Of course, there's no way they can do this without going through a series of perlious adventures, like facing a giant robotic shark, skeletal pirates in an old frozen galleon, and ever-present dark rhino riding with the clouds.
JAMES and the GIANT PEACH was never nearly as big of as THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS . I'm sure alot of it is because the filmstarts with normal live-action for the first twenty minutes, jumps to stop-motion animation after James enters the peach, and then live-action action again when James enters New York City,and the live-action segments were across the board unpopular. They didn't bother me so much, as they aren't anymore over-the-top and stage-y than what we've been served in most Tim Burton movies for the last decade. Actually,
I was happy to not have his goth sensibilties on me again. It also traded the usual Danny Elfman compositions in favor of music by a pre-Pixar Randy Newman. I get a little burned out on Elfman but this is a lateral move, at best. At
this stage of career Newman's composing is too 'Broadway'. The characters all break into song a few times more than you'd want and none of them are particularly memorable. In truth it's a way to sum up the entire movie. On paper it has all the elements of what should be universally considered a classic. In fact, it's biggest strength is the uniqueness of all the characters but they never manage to say or do anything you fondly remember once the movies over.
Henry Selick had originally planned for James to be a real actor through the entire film, then later considered doing the whole film in stop-motion, but ultimately settled on doing entirely live-action and entirely stop-motion sequences due to costs. There's a number spots throughout the film where the budgetary restrictions show- primary in the lack of characters and sparse backgrounds- which lead to the perception of it being 'lesser' than NIGHTMARE.
Though, of the two, I probably prefer JAMES and the GIANT PEACH because the palette's brighter, the animation is better...But there's no denying that the animated is way too short, especially for a movie that most people think of as ALL stop-motion.
It makes the comparison to THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS really unfair, however inevitable.
If you already own the DVD you may not be so quick to run out for the Blu-ray edition of JAMES and
the GIANT PEACH as the transfer quality is only better-ish and the disk doesn't
offer many more special features.
If your younger kids have never seen JAMES and the GIANT PEACH before then buying the blu-ray is a
great way to experience it or re-experience with them yourself if you haven't seen it since 1996.
JAMES and the GIANT PEACH (Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo) can be purchased here.