Review: James and the Giant Peach (1996)

James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach

Rating



Director

Henry Selick

Screenplay

Karey Kirkpatrick, Jonathan Roberts, Steve Bloom (Book: Roald Dahl)

Length

1h 19m

Starring

Paul Terry, Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Leeves, Joanna Lumley, Miriam Margolyes, Pete Postlethwaite, Susan Sarandon, David Thewlis, Steven Culp

MPAA Rating

PG

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Review

While Disney has always cornered the market on animation, they aren’t the only game in town. James and the Giant Peach shows that other studios can come up with creative and inventive premises and successfully execute them. The film does have its issues, but they are the kinds of problems children can easily ignore, as can some adults.

Outside of the Disney domination of animation in the 1980s and 1990s, there wasn’t a lot of quality, American-made animation to keep adults or children entertained. In 1993, director Henry Selick began a revolution in stop-motion animation that developed into one of the most inventive and creative art forms. Three years after A Nightmare Before Christmas, Selick brought Roald Dahl’s noted book James and the Giant Peach to the big screen with an eye on young children.

The story revolves around a young boy (Paul Terry) whose parents are killed by a rampaging rhino sending him to live with his repulsive aunts (Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley). When a peach blooms on a barren tree and grows to immeasurable proportions, James becomes curious about the massive fruit and ultimately ends up in a parallel universe rolling around the British countryside and floating across the ocean on his way to New York City to fulfill young James’ childhood dream of visiting the Big Apple in honor of his departed parents who were planning to take him there.

There is plenty of metaphor on display in James and the Giant Peach from the frightening rhinoceros to the bug-infested peach; however, the film focuses on its crafty visuals and lush settings. In Selick’s signature style, the film has a realistic dinginess that reflects modern society. Instead of focusing on pristine environments, Selick hopes to transport the viewer into a world that looks like their own. It’s an impressive design, though it often pales in comparison to Nightmare Before Christmas. The live-actor book-ends are a great fit to the story and the design of the aunts’ grimy hovel is better than most of what follows in the stop-motion sections.

The voice cast is tiresome at times, each taking on a superficial and stereotypical role that never quite moves beyond. Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Leeves, Margolyes, Susan Sarandon and David Thewlis are all capable actors, but that’s not adequately reflected in their vocal work. That helps set this film up as a perfect film for children, but one which doesn’t have the stability and vitality needed to bridge the gap to adult audiences. The story is also fitting for children, focusing on creativity, determination, and bravery. As such, the film is a strong piece for youngsters, but doesn’t quite resonate on other levels.

Review Written

April 27, 2021

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