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DVD Review: "James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition"

By It's My Life on August 9, 2010 12:30 PM | No TrackBacks

If you've read the books of Roald Dahl, you know how wonderfully weird they are. Mostly published in the 1960's and 1970's, they're the stories your parents probably read as kids, before there was Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or Artemus Fowl. They've always combined fantasy with reality in a way that manages to be both creepy and sweet at the same time. Wait...creepy and sweet...that sounds familiar. That reminds us of...Tim Burton! Well, duh. Tim Burton is also a Roald Dahl fan, having made the Johnny Depp film version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Years before that, not long after he and director Henry Selick made stop-motion animation history with "The Nightmare Before Christmas," Burton and Selick made a film version of another Dahl classic, "James and the Giant Peach." (What is it about Roald Dahl and stop-motion? "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is another of his books that recently got that treatment.)

jamesgiantpeach.jpg"James and the Giant Peach" tells the story of the orphaned James, who lives with his horrible aunts Spiker and Sponge. He's lonely and hungry all the time, mostly because the aunts force him to do chores all day and feed him only fish heads. That's why he's a little more excited than most kids would be when he finds a friendly spider in his room, and accepts a bag of crocodile tongues given to him by a strange man. The friendly spider leads to more friendly bugs, and the crocodile tongues lead to a giant peach, and those lead to one great adventure where James learns about love, companionship, and courage.  

Since most IML'ers weren't born when it came out in 1996, you may never have seen this film. Fortunately, there's a Special Edition incarnation recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, and we were so excited for the chance to ride along with James all over again.

We Especially Liked:

The live action stuff.
The beginning and end of the movie are not animated but rather, shot in live-action, which makes the middle of the story, where James is living inside a huge piece of fruit with a bunch of insects, all the more magical. It's a great shoutout to movies like "The Wizard of Oz," where the lines between fantasy and reality are distinct, but blurred.

The songs. Oh yes. There are songs. While nothing is quite as catchy as what you hear in "The Nightmare Before Christmas" or "Toy Story" (which also had songs by Randy Newman), it's a nice reminder that a movie can be a musical without dancing basketball players in it.

The tone. This movie is visually both beautiful and grim. Everything about it has that combo. The bugs are yucky but gorgeous, with charming personalities. The inside of the peach is a little gross, but also somehow appetizing. There's a deadly robotic shark and a lot of seagulls and a flying, angry rhinoceros. Moments that are sad and depressing and scary are quickly followed by something lovely and joyful and funny. It's really a perfect balance in a movie for young people.

The extras. If you're a film or animation buff, you'll enjoy seeing the "making of" section of the bonus features. A music video of one of the songs, "Good News" by Randy Newman, is cool and the "Spike the Aunts" interactive game is something we don't see too often on DVD extras.

While "James and the Giant Peach" may feel a little young to those of you over the age of 10 or 11, it's a true "classic" that audiences of all ages -- even the adults in your life -- will enjoy.

IML's Rating: B+


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