Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Lemme tell ya, this was the most unusual screening I've been to in a long time. After all, what better way to spend a Saturday morning than with 200 hyperactive children, all of whom are fawning over a guy dressed up in a giant, fuzzy, grey bat suit, complete with six-foot wingspan? (Note: as far as I can tell, the bat had nothing to do with the film.) And lemme tell ya, none of this was as strange as the film I was about to see....
Now I'm probably the last person in the world who ought to judge what makes for a good children's movie, but if you'd asked me that yesterday, I certainly wouldn't have said James and the Giant Peach. This is a story about a young boy, James (Paul Terry), whose parents are eaten by a spiritual rhinoceros. He is adopted by his cruel aunts (Miriam Margolyes and AbFab's Joanna Lumley), who abuse him cruelly. Then an "old man" (Pete Postlethwaite) gives James some "alligator tongues" which he spills on a peach tree, creating the aforementioned giant peach. Inside this peach, where James hides to get away from his aunties, he finds a bunch of giant bugs: a Brooklyn centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), a cowardly earthworm (which is, by the way, not a bug--David Thewlis), a sultry spider (Susan Sarandon), a matronly ladybug (Jane Leeves), and sundry other insects.
Fun for the whole family? Maybe so, although the adults seemed to enjoy the highbrow humor more than the kids, as everyone there seemed to be having a moderately good time. Personally, I found the constant switching between live action, straight animation, and claymation(!) somewhat stultifying. And hey, it wouldn't be a Disney film without lots of spontaneous singing.
The end result with James and the Giant Peach is a fairly good picture that drags at the beginning and may land above the heads of much of its target audience. Still, the creators of The Nightmare Before Christmas have done a pretty good job of following up that film (there's even a Jack Skellington cameo), although I doubt James will carry as wide an appeal. The messages to kids, about chasing your dreams, working together, and facing down your fears, are all noble, and we adults can probably learn a thing or two as well.
Mrs. Ladybug sums it all up with one marvelous line, though: "It's better than aphids." Who am I to argue?
[Join the Disney Movie Club and get three free Disney DVDs
"Look, up ahead, a giant banana!"
Facts and Figures
Run time: 79 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th April 1996
Box Office Worldwide: $28.9M
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 67 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Cast & Crew
Director: Henry Selick
Starring: Paul Terry as James, Joanna Lumley as Aunt Spiker, Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Sponge / Glowworm (voice), Susan Sarandon as Miss Spider (voice), Richard Dreyfuss as Centipede (voice), Jane Leeves as Ladybug (voice), Pete Postlethwaite as Old Man, David Thewlis as Earthworm (voice), J. Stephen Coyle as Reporter #2, Steven Culp as James' Father, Cirocco Dunlap as Girl with Telescope, Michael Girardin as Reporter #1, Tony Haney as Reporter #3, Kathryn Howell as Woman in Bathrobe (as Kathrine Howell), Simon Callow as Grasshopper (voice)