“James and the Giant Peach” is the second film from the creative team of Tim Burton and director Henry Selick. Although not quite as successful as the duo’s first effort (“Nightmare Before Christmas”), it’s still an enjoyable adventure. The film is based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book, “James and the Giant Peach.” When you start with such original and memorable material, it’s difficult to suffer in way of content. Thankfully, Selick and Burton have a keen eye for creating unforgettable environments and characters that further enhance the fantastic story of a boy named James (Paul Terry) and the giant peach that takes him on an unforgettable adventure.
When James loses his parents, he’s sent to live with two evil aunts, Aunt Spiker (the always funny Joanna Lumley, “Absolutely Fabulous”) and Aunt Sponge (Miriam Margolyes). As James spends his days tending to the every need of his aunts, he dreams of escaping to New York City, the place his Dad always talked about. One day, a mysterious man (Pete Postlethwaite) presents James with a magical bag full of glowing creatures that have the ability to bring James a happier life. At the sound of his Aunts approaching, James panics and the creatures fall to the earth, where they start to work their magic.
It’s when the peach begins to grow and grow so giant (the Aunts are overjoyed at the prospect of selling tickets to see the unusual fruit) that the film really starts to take off. When James takes a bit of the peach, he becomes a part of the magic. An entryway to the inside of the peach reveals itself and James crawls inside where he discovers oversized and equally magical critters. Once inside the peach, the film changes to stop-motion animation. Inside is Mrs. Ladybug (Jane Leeves), Miss Spider (Susan Sarandon), the Grasshopper (Simon Callow), the Centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), the Glowworm (Miriam Margolyes), and an Earthworm (David Thewlis). The characters are a memorable group, each bringing a different point of view, humor and wisdom to the film. Together the group decide to escape the hilltop, as far away from the Aunts as possible, and make their way to New York City where there’s something for each of them.
The journey to New York City is an action-packed one, including luring a flock of birds to help them cross the ocean, trying to escape a giant mechanical shark, battling pirate skeletons, and facing fears. While not as memorable as Selick or Burton’s other efforts, “James and the Giant Peach” certainly offers some superb stop-motion work and fantastic performances. Randy Newman provides a nice musical score for the film, as well as a few musical numbers throughout. While the film is suited for a younger audience, adults can certainly appreciate the details and effort that went into bringing Dahl’s wonderful story to life.
This set also includes the DVD version of the film.
VIDEO: "James and the Giant Peach" is presented in 1.66:1 (1080p/AVC) by Disney. This is an excellent presentation that offered some noticeable improvements over the prior DVD edition. Sharpness and detail remained consistently first-rate, with small object definition looking cleaner and clearer than before. While a little bit of edge enhancement and a couple of traces of pixelation were spotted, the presentation otherwise appeared smooth and clean. Colors remained bright and well-saturated during most scenes, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The sound quality for "James and Giant Peach" is extremely fun and often wonderfully enjoyable. The audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 on this Blu-Ray edition.
The audio uses the surrounds very effectively throughout the film, and their use is often playful and creative, making for some entertaining moments. They also create a strong sense of space and dimension, frequently enveloping the viewer in the scenes. Deep bass also makes its presence known at times. When I looked at who was responsible for the film's audio, I realized that Gary Rydstrom was part of the team responsible for the sound presentation of "James". Like the rest of the films that he has worked on ("A Bug's Life", "Haunting", "Saving Private Ryan"), opportunities to create an entertaining sound presentation within specific scenes are not missed.
Also a star of this show is the score by Randy Newman, which sounds wonderful on this Blu-Ray edition. Dialogue is clear and easily heard, as well. The DTS-HD presentation offered a bit more clarity and low-end punch than the presentation on the prior DVD edition.
EXTRAS: Included on the Blu-ray Disc is the interactive game “Spike The Aunts.” Otherwise the remaining features are on the DVD included in the Special Edition, 2-Disc DVD set.
“Production Featurette” is a brief behind-the-scenes look at the making of “James and the Giant Peach.” The narration offers a somewhat classic Disney feel as it guides us through the makings of the film. Interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, as well as clips from the film round out the fairly straightforward look at how elements of the film were brought to life.
Also included on the DVD is a music video for “Good News” performed by Randy Newman. Trailers for “James and the Giant Peach” and “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” are also included.
Sneak Peeks: “Tangled,” “Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue,” “Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition,” “The Black Cauldron: Special Edition,” “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” “Disney Nature: Oceans,” “The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos,” “Fantasia: 2-Movie Collection,” “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” “Alice in Wonderland: Special 60th Anniversary Edition,” and more.
Final Thoughts: "James and the Giant Peach" remains an entertaining effort, offering superb stop-motion animation, enjoyable performances and a magical story based on Roald Dahl’s book. The Blu-ray Special Edition doesn’t offer much in the way of extras, but solid audio/video quality.
The Film B