Film Scouts Reviews

"James and the Giant Peach"

by Karen Jaehne

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April 11, 1996

Directed by Henry Sellick. Written by Karey Kirkpatrick and Jonathan Roberts & Steve Bloom, based on the book by Roald Dahl. Produced by Denise di Novi and Tim Burton. Cinematography by Pete Kosachik and Hiro Narita. Production Design by Harley Jessup. Conceptual Design by Lane Smith. Edited by Stan Webb. Original songs and score by Randy Newman.

Starring Paul Terry (James), Joanna Lumley (Aunt Spiker), Miram Margolyes (Aunt Sponge), Pete Postlethwaite (Magical Old Man), Susan Sarandon (voice of Spider), Simon Callow (voice of Grasshopper), Richard Dreyfuss (voice of Centipede), David Thewlis (voice of Earthworm), Jane Leeves (voice of Ladybug).


Roald Dahl's peach-now director Henry Selick's PEACH-must be seen BIG to be BELIEVED. Excuse me, it's a movie that makes you sing louder than mothers allows.

James is one of those 9-year-old English orphans with nobby knees and a nob of a nose, who requires magic to overcome life's torments. Fortunately, along comes a man to give him some advice and, even better, some glowing green things with a post-atomic growth affect on a dead tree that sprouts a peach 20 feet in diameter. When James tries, literally, to look into this peach, he discovers a gaggle of bugs at its core, and a charming lot they are! They steal James' movie, the rascals!

Premier among the bugs is Centipede, a brash, Brooklyn braggart with a great gap in his nautical knowledge. He leads them into the frozen North, where they depart from Dahl's book to revisit Jack Skellington, one of the best characters from these filmmakers' last fun-flick, "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Captain Jack is a skeleton sea-captain, a brigand with a scimitar who terrifies James and the bugs. It's such a departure from the droll wit of Dahl, and yet it moves that peach toward the big fruit salad.

Once the peach is on a roll, they are all sailing in/on/with it to New York - "where dreams come true." (Have they seen us lately?) Clever Spider has the soigne sensibility of a decadent Dietrich. She can spin things that'd put the ever-weaving Fates to shame, as she devotes herself to James' safety and getting them and their peach harnessed to a flock of sea gulls. Earthworm is a distinguished and upright companion, whose main function is to keep everyone on the up and up (a good thing to be when you're surfing with a peach). And Ladybug looks like she'd much prefer sitting down to tea and a chinwag, but what must be done must be done and she uses her purse to do it, if it must be.

It's all so English: muddle through and immigrate to America. And we love them for it. Why, they even dare to eat a peach! A show-stopping production number occurs when they get hungry and start eating their vehicle. They sing, dance and cook up a storm, making the kind of yukky stuff that kids like to laugh about in the cafeteria at the age of 9.

Of course, the lesson of the film is to overcome obstacles by thinking creatively and never let go of your dreams. On a psychological level, it's interesting to compare it to Cinderella: here we've got no prince, nor need the pumpkin be abracadabra'ed to fulfill Cindy's dream. It's a very post-mod parable, where everything is what it is and only changes its size in order to exist on a parallel plane - a plane that is truly round and truly peachy.

This is the best ever live action/animation mixed-medium movie, because form and content have been mated to show that daily life as we fear it can be photographed as campy and still suck. Yet when you "animate" it - in every sense of the word - you discover the poetry of life! You find out what it truly means to dare to eat a peach. I just suspect that the J in J. Alfred Prufrock stands for James, our James.

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