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James and the Giant Peach(1996)
James, a lonely orphan, is sent to live with his wicked and greedy Aunts Spiker and Sponge. Unwanted and forced to perform their menial chores, the boy dreams about going to New York City--a place, his father once told him, where dreams come true. Then James meets a mysterious old man who gives him a bag of magical glowing green things (crocodile tongues) and tells him that marvelous things will happen. Racing home, James accidentally spills the contents of the bag at the base of a barren old peach tree. To his astonishment, a peach instantly appears on the branch and grows and grows until it reaches 20 feet in diameter. Hungry and curious, James sneaks out that evening and takes a bite of the peach. When a glowing tunnel appears, the frightened boy ventures inside and meets Centipede, Earthworm, Ladybug, Glowworm, Grasshopper and Miss Spider. Rolling out to sea, the giant peach launches its passengers on a series of wildly imaginative adventures with New York City as their final destination.
For more about James and the Giant Peach and the James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray release, see James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on July 30, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Simon Callow, Paul Terry, Richard Dreyfuss, Miriam Margolyes, Susan Sarandon, Jane Leeves
Director: Henry Selick
» See full cast & crew
James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray Review
A hit-or-miss family film receives a hit-or-miss release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, July 30, 2010
It isn't often that a children's film tries to teach young viewers that their ideas are valuable -- that a fresh perspective can solve innumerable problems -- and James and the Giant Peach aims to do just that. Sadly, it misses the target. Somewhat loosely based on Roald Dahl's famed novel of the same name, producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick's partially animated adaptation boasts a fantastic, smartly conceived second act, one bursting with stop-motion magic and wonder, but opens and closes with a pair of grueling live-action dead-weights that ironically, and quite literally, strip Dahl's infectious tale of its humanity. Is there room for the grotesque and the unsettling in a children's film? Absolutely. Look no further than Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas or, more recently, Selick's own Coraline. However, there's a fine line between the grotesque and the mean-spirited absurd; a line Selick seems to have some trouble navigating.
After a simple, haunting prelude, our titular hero, James (Paul Terry), loses his parents to a rampaging storm and is sent to live with his despicable aunts, Spiker and Sponge (Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margolyes, leering like gargoyles in a midnight downpour). Treated like a prisoner, James leads a miserable life at the beck and call of his aunts, cleaning their house and doing whatever menial tasks they dream up. But all that changes when a mysterious old man (Pete Postlethwaite) gives the boy a bag of enchanted crocodile tongues. While returning home with his strange gift, James trips and accidentally dumps the tongues near an old peach tree. The next morning, he discovers that one of the peaches has grown to an enormous size. Ever curious, the young boy eats a handful of the squishy fruit and climbs into a tunnel that appears on its side. Inexplicably transformed into a stop-motion puppet, James meets a ragtag gang of man-sized insects inside -- a violin-strumming grasshopper (voiced by Simon Callow), a world-traveling centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), a prim and proper ladybug (Jane Leeves), a friendly worm (David Thewlis), an old glowworm (Miriam Margolyes), and a kind spider (Susan Sarandon) -- and soon finds himself on a journey to New York City. Using the giant peach as an impromptu mode of transportation, he and his newfound friends take to the seas, encounter a menacing mechanical foe, soar through the clouds, tussle with a ghostly crew of pirates, and face a variety of other obstacles, all of which allows James to come into his own and escape the cruel hands of fate.
There are moments in which James and the Giant Peach brushes with greatness. A thrilling chase involving a harpoon-flinging shark, a moonlit interlude between James and the grasshopper, a lively feast in the bowels of the fruit, an underwater clash with undead pirates (teeming with nods to The Nightmare Before Christmas), a quiet moment before bedtime between James and Miss Spider, a showdown between a boy and the deadly beast that killed his parents... these, and many more, reveal the potential in Selick's adaptation. Dreyfuss, Sarandon and the film's other voice actors do a marvelous job bringing Dahl's insects to life, and their interactions with James are heartfelt and effective. But to savor their performances and the film's defining moments, viewers are forced to endure a nearly unbearable string of live-action scenes that lack the nuance, soul and sheer magic inherent in the second act's gorgeous stop-motion animation sequences. Terry is as effective on camera as off, imbuing James with the wounded hopefulness of Dahl's protagonist, but his live-action co-stars overact and overreach at every turn. The worst of it comes in the form of James' evil aunts, two abusive, hell-birthed harpies that are more atrocious than any beast the boy encounters on his journey; more unwieldy and cartoonish than anything Dahl ever penned. They leer, screech and paw at James to comical extremes -- injecting superficial horror and ugliness where there should be carefully honed darkness -- and the film's tone, pacing and cohesion suffers terribly as a result.
Other problems emerge as well. Despite earning composer Randy Newman an Oscar nomination, the film's arguably jarring musical numbers struck me as contrived and unnecessary, and tend to distract from the tale instead of enhancing the narrative. If memory serves, Dahl's original characters were also a bit more complex, not to mention more multidimensional. Miss Spider and the grasshopper are ripe for dissection, but few other characters, insect or human, leave room for much interpretation. Worse, James' long-sought destination is reduced to a bleak vision of New York City; a forgettable grayscale dreamscape more akin to a Roger Rabbit-meets-Sin City aside than a weary boy's paradise. The fact that a sunny incarnation of the city graces the film's closing scene barely registers (although the parallel to the film's sweet but somber opening scene is certainly appreciated). That being said, nostalgia is an all-powerful creature, and many a twenty-something has incredibly fond memories of watching James and the Giant Peach as a child. But for me, films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline represent milestones in both stop-motion animation and dark children's fantasy storytelling, and Selick's Dahl adaptation simply doesn't stack up. If the entire film were animated, I'd probably be singing a very different song, but James' live-action misfires, pacing problems and design decisions left me a little too cold.
James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray, Video Quality
Assessing the quality of Disney's problematic 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation proved to be quite difficult. On one hand, videophiles will appreciate the faithful aspects of the transfer: its wonderfully grainy texture, Selick's subdued color palette, the preservation of his unforgiving shadows, and the gauzy, diffuse-lensed haze that settles overtop many of the film's live-action scenes. I know I did. On the other hand, many will rightfully criticize the transfer's many apparent problems: rampant crush, print blemishes and instabilities (among them a distracting fluttering that caught my eye again and again), flushed skintones, poorly contrasted live-action sequences (you can barely make out poor Postlethwaite's face) and other oddities and anomalies. As it stands, fans of their television's "Vibrant Contrast" mode and viewers with improperly calibrated displays will find some shots to be downright abysmal. Granted, the film's stop-motion animation looks dramatically better than its live-action bookends, but even its animated scenes aren't as crisp, clean or revealing as I expected. Oddly enough, the Blu-ray edition of The Nightmare Before Christmas trounces James and the Giant Peach in every conceivable category, and Burton's classic is three years older. It isn't entirely unwatchable, mind you -- the worst scenes are crammed into the first twenty minutes -- and the film's animated second act provides a welcome respite from the rest, but I have a hard time believing this is the best James and the Giant Peach could look. I suspect most viewers will be disappointed.
James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Thankfully, James and the Giant Peach's stalwart DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track fares better than its video transfer. Dialogue is intelligible and well-prioritized, Postlethwaite's soothing narration is situated perfectly in the soundscape, and the tiniest sound effects earn a seat at Disney's sonic table. The rear speakers are a tad restrained at times, as is the LFE channel, but the whole of the soundfield kicks into high gear anytime a mechanical behemoth or rotting pirate makes a grab for dear, old James and his friends. At its best, LFE output is hearty and robust, ambience is fairly enveloping, and dynamics are impressive. Directionality is precise as well, and smooth pans whip chunks of fruit from speaker to speaker with ease. There are a handful of instances in which I had trouble isolating individual elements of the mix -- chaotic scenes involving music, bombastic action-beats, shouts and cries of panic, roaring waves, and numerous other sound effects -- but each one was brief and easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, while its video transfer will leave many shaking their heads in disbelief, James' lossless audio track is the highlight of the studio's release.
James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, the Blu-ray edition of James and the Giant Peach doesn't offer many more special features than its near-barebones standard DVD counterpart. A BD-exclusive "Spike the Aunts" interactive game headlines the new release, but the remaining material -- a sugary archive EPK (SD, 5 minutes), a Randy Newman music video (HD, 3 minutes), a still frame gallery, and the film's original theatrical trailer (SD, 2 minutes) -- is short, dated and dry.
James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
James and the Giant Peach didn't work for me, but who am I to question the power of nostalgia? Those who followed James to New York at a young age will probably enjoy Selick's film as much today as they did in 1996. Still, newcomers beware: James lacks the punch and polish of classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas and modern stop-motion marvels like Coraline. Alas, the film's Blu-ray release is primed to disappoint. Its problematic video transfer is a bit of an eyesore, its supplemental package is nearly non-existent, and its capable DTS-HD Master Audio track, while impressive, isn't amazing enough to save a sinking ship. Diehard fans, hold your breath, brace yourselves accordingly and take the plunge. Newcomers, play it safe and stick with a rental.
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James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray, News and Updates
• James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray Dated - May 8, 2010
An early announcement to retailers indicates that Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment is set to release Henry Selick's animated movie James and the Giant Peach on August 3. No release details are available at the moment, other than the edition will consist of ...
• James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray Coming Soon - January 15, 2010
A trailer has surfaced online to promote the upcoming release of the special edition Blu-ray of Henry Selick's animated movie 'James and the Giant Peach'. No other release details are given, other than the movie will be "restored and remastered". There is no specific ...
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