PICK THIS ONE -- IT'S A PLUM! @ 10 August 2010 09:57 PM
(I used "plum" because "peach" would have been too obvious.)
There is a handful of Disney productions that I feel are underrated and James and the Giant Peach falls into that category. Not as edgy as The Nightmare Before Christmas, not as flashy as action/fantasies of its era, yet not conventional to be easily categorized, James is a gem with a gentle sweetness (ooh, another peach pun) and unabashed stylization that makes it stand on it own as a unrecognized classic.
An early Roald Dahl work with less of the bitter taste (sorry!) that characterized his adult fiction and crept into his children's books too (don't get me wrong, I love Dahl's work, but it's pretty tough stuff), James and the Giant Peach is about a tortured youth (a Dahl trademark) who embarks on a magical journey with an unlikely team of garden creatures who have anthropomorphosized into talking friends).
The film, done with the cooperation of Dahl family members, is probably the most faithful visualization of his books, created with the artistry of Lane Smith, whose books are also distinctive. Smith illustrated a special tie-in edition of James when the film was released, and along with a "making of" book by Lucy Dahl, were among the sparse merchandise offerings connected with the film.
It's a musical of sorts, with some fine work by Randy Newman, particularly the touching "My Name is James" and the showpiece "A Family," in which we hear Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon and Jane Leeves, all giving spirited performances.
The live action segments are deliberately designed to be cartoonlike with no attempt at the gritty realism that took the enchantment out, in my opinion, movies like Hook and Return to Oz. It's a throwback to early fantasy cinema, and perhaps why it was not enthusiastically promoted nor received in its day.
James and the Giant Peach was released on DVD once before, sadly without a commentary. There's still none on this new edition, but a new game has been added to the Blu-Ray disc. Most of the other features remain, but the gallery feature has been moved exclusively to the Blu-Ray.
This is a highly recommended, old-fashioned family fantasy with all the classic elements and some astonishingly detailed stop motion. Director Henry Selick moved on to the impressive Coraline from here, and is now reportedly back at Disney. It will be nice to see if he creates a sparkling treasure along the lines of James and the Giant Peach again.
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