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James and the Giant Peach Special Edition DVD Review

James and the Giant Peach (1996) movie poster James and the Giant Peach

Theatrical Release: April 12, 1996 / Running Time: 79 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Henry Selick

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

Songs: "My Name is James", "That's the Life", "Family", "Eating the Peach", "Sail Away", "Good News"

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After his parents are killed by a rhinoceros, a young English boy named James Henry Trotter is forced to live with his two truly abhorrent aunts. There, he must work all the time and is left with just crumbs to eat.

James dreams of leaving and visiting the magnificent place he parents told him of: New York City. A mysterious stranger (Pete Posthlethwaite) tells James that magical things will happen, and sure enough, they do. A giant peach grows and grows on the property. James' aunts seek to financially exploit the peach as an attraction.

Ultimately, the enormous fruit proves a method for James to escape. The film changes to stop-motion animation, as James encounters a diverse group of insects, and they set sail on the grand peach across the Atlantic.

James dreams of leaving. And then he does!

James and the Giant Peach is adapted from Roald Dahl's excellent book, first published in 1961 and a favorite with young readers ever since. The film is an unusual blend. It aspires to be something that would make producer Tim Burton proud, while at the same time seeks to remain true to its basis.

The live action sequences may call to mind other unfortunate boys, from Oliver Twist to Dahl's own Charlie Bucket. These stand out as being particularly unsettling, and the distasteful treatment bestowed upon James is a bit hard to watch. Whether it's a credit to the eery way these sequences are photographed,
the two actresses who make you really abhor the aunts, or simply the imagery-filled text by Dahl.

The entirely stop-motion scenes which make up 45 minutes in the middle of the film are a mixed bag. The technique was earlier employed in The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was also directed by Henry Selick. As with Nightmare, the stop-motion seems pertinent to the film's mood, though that's not really the same as the book's tone at all. Visually, these sequences are compelling, but they're also very busy. As a result, it's tough to digest the insect characters and the fast pace of most of their scenes.

Overall, James and the Giant Peach is a disarming and fairly enchanting fairy tale. It may not reach the level of the book. But in spite of a few shortcomings, the film finds a niche of its own, as a unique family film, with an unusual style, vision, and energy.


Buy James and the Giant Peach from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.66:1 Non-anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
DTS 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 3, 2000
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Out of Print
Last Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
White Keepcase
Available soon as Special Edition Blu-ray + DVD

VIDEO and AUDIO

James and the Giant Peach is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, 1.66:1. Though it has not been enhanced for 16x9 televisions, the transfer is rather pleasing. Its opening scenes are soft and a bit grainy, but this is obviously an intentional effect. Throughout, the film has a dark look to it, so while there are some vibrant colors, they are restrained, giving the film a unique appearance. The picture remains free of any kind of flaw, staying pretty clean and sharp. Though a windowboxed anamorphic transfer would slightly increase resolution, the video quality is overwhelmingly satisfying as is.

Presented in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1, James and the Giant Peach features remarkable audio quality. The dynamic tracks heighten the film's scenes, by making great use of all of the channels and displaying some first-rate sound mixing. Randy Newman's energized score, a highlight of the film, is wonderfully realized, and the songs really enhance the production. Atmospheric sounds help to strenghten the film's environments, as effects come from the surround speakers. Nonetheless, a fair warning: at times, the audio can get very loud.

Grasshopper makes a little moonlight music. The magic bag! Main Menu

BONUS FEATURES

Though the title proclaims this as a Special Edition,
the most noteworthy part of the disc is the solid audio and video quality. Extras are kind of sparse.

First up, there's a Production Featurette (4:30), which covers the film's lengthy and extensive making. This Electronic Press Kit provides a pretty superficial look at the film's blend of stop-motion and live action. There are some brief sound bytes from cast and crew, but the surface is really just skimmed.

A 2 -minute music video for "Good News" showcases the one-of-a-kind singer/songwriter Randy Newman. Clips of Newman performing the end credits theme are mixed with clips from the movie and its production.

A look at one of the film's 22 soundstages from The Production Featurette Randy Newman's "Good News" music video Concept Art from the Galleries

The still frame gallery is separated into four sections: Concept Art, Puppets, Behind the Scenes, and Live Action. There are a total of 72 stills that showcase various stages of the film's production.

Lastly, there's theatrical trailers for James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas, presented in fullscreen. These intriguing previews are a nice reminder of the time before Disney trailers became virtually extinct on DVD.

The sneak peeks at the beginning of the disc preview Toy Story 2, and Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure.

The gang sails to New York. That is one big pile of peach!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though not the all-out Special Edition one would hope for, James and the Giant Peach receives fairly pleasing treatment on DVD. With good (though non-anamorphic) video, exlempary audio, and a few nice little extras, it could certainly be worse. Still, this is probably the last we'll see of the movie on the DVD format. Even though there's much room for improvement, fans of this lively adaptation will have to settle for this "Special Edition."

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Henry Selick: The Nightmare Before Christmas Coraline | Based on a Roald Dahl Book: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Music by Randy Newman: Toy Story Cars A Bug's Life Monsters, Inc. The Princess and the Frog
From the Screenwriters: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy The Spiderwick Chronicles | Jonathan Roberts: The Lion King
Films of 1996: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) Muppet Treasure Island Jack
More Mid-1990s Family Fun: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride Oliver Twist (1997) The Phoenix & The Carpet A Goofy Movie
Alice in Wonderland (2010) Alice in Wonderland (1951) Pete's Dragon Howl's Moving Castle
Who Framed Roger Rabbit The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Bridge to Terabithia

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Reviewed May 19, 2004.