Giant Peach offers Disney animation and adventure
James (Paul Terry) travels to New York in a peach in James and the Giant Peach.
Directed by Henry Selick.
Adapted from the book by Roald Dahl.
Starring Paul Terry, Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Leeves, Susan Sarandon, and David Thewlis.By Audrey Wu
Although it seems we have stagnated in the too-quiet months before the movie industry releases its summer blockbusters, Disney has thankfully decided to fill the void with a bright little beacon named James and the Giant Peach. It's a smart move on Disney's part; Disney is the industry standard for children's films, and by releasing a movie now, they will probably make a nice profit and have another chance to hype their soon-to-be-released animated film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
For James and the Giant Peach, Disney has called on the surreal creativity of director Henry Selick and producers Denise DiNovi and Tim Burton (all of The Nightmare Before Christmas fame) for a film that features stop-motion animation (which was used in Nightmare) and is visually intriguing. The movie also features the Disney trademarks of characters with exuberant personalities and a plot full of adventure.
James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry) is a young boy who led a peaceful, carefree life in London with his lovely parents, who encouraged him to dream and to be creative. The Trotter family planned to move to New York City, which was full of children whom James could play with. Sadly, these dreams ended quite suddenly when Mr. and Mrs. Trotter were stampeded by a vicious rhinoceros (stop laughing ... and don't worry - this isn't actually shown in the film). James is then adopted by his two aptly-named aunts, Spiker and Sponge (it goes without saying that they are ugly and evil). They abuse him (don't worry - they never actually beat him in the film, but beatings are alluded to and James walks around for the rest of the movie with a sad little scratch on his face), and he becomes a little-boy version of Cinderella. Not since Oliver Twist has a boy led such a pathetic life.
Then one day, James meets a mysterious man, and through a rather complicated series of events, he ends up as a puppet inside a giant peach, where he meets and befriends a group of insects inside the giant peach, and they decide to fly to New York City in the giant peach.
The movie virtually oozes with a dark, surreal, stop-animation style that is even more extreme than that of The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie is obviously not meant to be realistic - the moral of the story, after all, has to do with the importance of dreams. In the scenes that take place outside of the peach, the movie mixes live-action filming against the backdrop of starkly fake sets. Inside the peach, James and his insect friends come to life through stop-motion animation.
At the end of the film, when James, the giant peach, and his insect friends crash-land in New York City, the stop-motion animation is fused with the live-action filming. However, there were some scenes in the film that were so completely random and "out there" that I had to wonder what the makers of the film were on when they made the film. For example, in one short scene James is dreaming that he is a caterpillar being chased by his ugly evil aunts. The entire scene is filmed in the clumsy animation that you would expect to see on "Sesame Street," and when the sequence ends (just as suddenly and randomly as it began), the audience is left thinking, "Huh?" There is also one scene in which James and his insect friends are singing, and for some reason, they are in outer space and a random canoeist paddles by. However, these rather strange scenes don't detract from the fact that the movie scores big points for being original and visually intriguing.
Aside from the fascinating stop-motion animation, the characters are all wonderful. They overflow with exuberant personalities and are a lot of fun to watch. They include an intelligent, academic grasshopper (voiced by Simon Callow), a feisty centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), a sweet grandmother-type ladybug (Frasier's Jane Leeves), a sophisticated French spider (Susan Sarandon), and a cowardly earthworm (David Thewlis).
As the giant peach makes its way to New York City, James and his insect friends encounter a Jules Verne shark and band of ghost pirates, and the plot moves along quickly with humor and adventure. Unfortunately, the movie falls apart after the giant peach crash lands in New York City. The ending is not much more than a cheesy "boys and girls, the lesson of the movie is ... " - something that you would expect from a bad sitcom but not from Disney. However, the movie is visually appealing, weird enough to fascinate audiences, and at only 80 minutes long, it won't bore you.