James and the Giant Peach

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In the 1930s, James Henry Trotter is a young boy who lives with his parents by the sea in the United Kingdom. On James’s birthday, they plan to go to New York City and visit the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world. However, his parents are later killed by a ghostly rhinoceros from the sky and finds himself living with his two neglectful aunts, Spiker and Sponge.

He is forced to work all day and they threaten him with beatings to keep him in line and taunt him about the mysterious rhino and other hazards if he tries to leave.

While rescuing a spider from being squashed by his aunts, James meets a mysterious man with a bag of magic green “crocodile tongues”, which he gives to James to make his life better. The soldier warns him not to lose the “tongues” and disappears. When James is returning to the house, he trips and the “tongues” escape into the ground.

A peach is soon found on a withered old tree, and expands into immense proportions. Spiker and Sponge then use the giant peach as an attraction, making lots of money as James watches from the house, not permitted to leave. That night, James is sent to pick up the garbage. While doing so, he grabs a chunk of the peach to eat as one of the “crocodile tongues” unknowingly jumps into it. A large hole appears inside the peach and James crawls inside, where he finds and befriends a group of life-size anthropomorphic bugs who also dream of an ideal home (Grasshopper, Centipede, Earthworm, Miss Spider, Ladybug, and Glowworm), and is also turned into a more animated form. As they hear the aunts search for James, Centipede manages to cut the stem connecting the giant peach to the tree and the peach rolls away to the Atlantic Ocean with James and his friends inside it, seemingly crushing Spiker and Sponge’s antique car as they try to chase it.

Remembering his dream to visit New York City, James and the insects decide to go there with Centipede steering the peach claiming he sailed the world as a “Commodore”. They use Miss Spider’s silk to capture and tie a hundred seagulls to the peach stem, while battling against a giant robotic shark. They escape just in time. While flying, James and his friends eventually find themselves hungry and soon realize that “their whole ship is made out of food”. After gorging most of the inside of the peach, Miss Spider, while using her web to tuck in James, reveals to him that she was the spider he saved from Spiker and Sponge. James then has a nightmare of him as a caterpillar attacked by Spiker, Sponge, and a spray the aunts used that resembles the rhino. When he wakes up, he and his friends find themselves in The Arctic, lost and cold. The Centipede has fallen asleep while keeping watch, resulting in them drifting further away from their expected destination. It is then revealed that the Centipede has never traveled the world and has lived on two pages of the National Geographic. After hearing the Grasshoper wishing they had a compass, Centipede jumps off the peach into the icy water below and searches a sunken ship for a compass but is taken prisoner by a group of skeletal pirates. James and Miss Spider rescue him and the journey continues.

As the group finally reaches New York City, a storm appears. A flash of lightning reveals the rhino approaching them. James is frightened but faces his fears and gets his friends to safety before the rhino strikes the peach with lightning; The strings keeping the seagulls attached to the peach break and James and the peach both fall to the city below. James coughs up the crocodile tongue as he reawakens, transforms back into his normal form, and emerges from the peach realizing it has landed directly on top of the Empire State Building.

After being rescued by police and firefighters, Spiker and Sponge arrive, supposedly having driven their car across the seabed, and attempt to claim James and the peach. James stands up to Spiker and Sponge, and they attempt to kill James. Using the remaining seagulls, the bugs arrive in New York City. They tie up Spiker and Sponge with Miss Spider’s silk and they are taken away. James introduces his friends and allows the children of New York to eat up the peach.

The peach pit is made into a house in Central Park, where James lives with the bugs and has the friends he could wish for. Centipede runs for New York mayor, Grasshopper becomes a professional violinist, Earthworm becomes a mascot for a new cream, Ladybug becomes an obstetrician, Glowworm lights up the Statue of Liberty, Miss Spider owns a nightclub called “Spider Club”, and James celebrates his 9th birthday with his new family.

In a post-credits scene, a new arcade game called “Spike the Aunts” is shown, featuring the rhino.

REVIEW:

Stop motion animation is still my favorite style of animation. For some reason, after all these years, I was under the impression that James and the Giant Peach was early computer animation, but that turns out to not be the case. This is one of those films that has gained quite a following over the years, but is it any good?

What is this about?

When young orphan James spills a magic bag of crocodile tongues, he soon finds himself in possession of a giant peach that flies him away to strange lands. But that’s not half as odd as the oversize talking insects he finds living inside the peach.

What did I like?

Bugs. There must be something about insects over there in England that makes them not so creepy. With a few exception, every anthropomorphic bug we have here in the states (Spider-Man doesn’t count HA!) is not the kind that you would want to hang out with or watching your kids.  This group of giant insects is quite the collection of characters, each one with their own pros and cons, but all very likable.

Influence. This is not a Tim Burton directed film, but he does serve as producer. His influence is clearly obvious in the animation and in some ways the mixture of light and dark elements. A recent film that has the influence of the producer is Man of Steel. Although Zak Snyder directed it, the dark, depressing nature of Christopher Nolan was there (and hurt the film, in my opinion). Burton’s influence doesn’t hurt. As a matter of fact, be on the lookout for Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Mixture. The bookends of this film are live-action segments. First off, let me say that the transition of James to stop motion was kinda interesting. Nothing special, just him crawling through the peach and changing to stop motion. Second, the animation is ahead of its time. Smooth movements, realistic look, and no visible strings all contribute to what Disney was about to unleash a few months later. Perhaps you heard of a little film known as Toy Story, which they released with a little company known as Pixar.

What didn’t I like?

Rhino. So, James’ parents are killed by a rhino from the sky. All through the film, we hear about the rhino and what he did, but he doesn’t appear again until the last stop-motion scene. Thing is, the rhino is on screen for about 30 seconds total, which is criminally short for the thing that is the living embodiment of all evil in this film. No information is given about this thing, its just a scary thing in the sky.

Shark. Similar to the rhino, there is a shark that we come across once the giant peach set out to sea. Now, this is no ordinary shark, as it is clearly some kind of robotic menace. Question is, who is behind it? Where did it come from? Why did this filmmaker decide to not give us that info if they were going to put it in there? I don’t have anything against the robotic shark, but it had to come from somewhere. I don’t care if it is a trap set by pirates, the creation of a mad scientist, or some kind of abomination that was brought to life by a fluke accident. As an audience, we need to know a little something, otherwise it might as well have just been some kind of useless henchman.

All the way live. The live action segments, while innovative change of pace from what one would expect in this film based on the trailers, went on way too long. This is especially true of the opening segment. The film is barely over an hour, was it really necessary to give us 20 minutes of live action? That could have been cut in half very easily. The last scenes weren’t as bad, but they felt as if it was just tacked on and not very well thought out, but the peach pit thing was pretty nice.

The town where I spent many of my formative years has a peach festival every summer. Because of this, I can only take peaches once a year. I can see James and the Giant Peach becoming a film that families pull out once a year, but it isn’t the kind that you would watch over and over again, contrary to what everyone seems to think it is. Yes, it is a good family film, but there are so many plot holes, it takes away from the enjoyment that this flick should have provided. So, I must say that this is an average flick that you should read the book. Now that I think about it, so should I!

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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