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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.66:1
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Featurette
  • Music video - Good News

James and the Giant Peach

Buena Vista/Buena Vista . R4 . COLOR . 76 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

It was no surprise to discover another of Roald Dahl’s delightfully trippy children’s tales wending its way to movie screens, after all, very few of us who saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as munchkins have ever been quite the same since. What may come as more of a bombshell to some, however, is that the bastion of good old fashioned, wholesome, family entertainment that is Disney backed this particular one. Mind you, other than the odd murderous rhinoceros and seriously big mofo piece of fruit, this tale eschews much of Dahl’s renowned out-thereness for a slightly more traditional, Mouseketeer-friendly vibe. Even so, it still manages to combine live action and CGI stuff with claymation from the team behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, with an added touch of Terry Gilliam-esque animation thrown in for good measure. Mr Dahl would be proud!

Things all begin sweetly enough, with young James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry) safe in the bosom of his family and their cosy house by the sea – with talk of a trip to the great city New York, where apparently all of James’ dreams will come true. But this idyll is shattered when that rhinoceros we mentioned comes bursting forth from the clouds, gobbling his parents in 35 seconds flat – oh bother.

"Try looking at it another way…"

Left in the “care” of two charmless hags in his Aunts Sponge and Spiker (Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley), who submit James to a life of servitude and fish heads, fish heads, yukky, yukky fish heads for dinner, the young lad is desperately unhappy, despondently committing his dream of visiting the Big Apple to paper and setting it free in the shape of a little hot-air balloon. The next day James meets a mysterious bloke (Pete Postlethwaite), who returns his balloon with an added bonus – it’s filled with luminous green wriggly crocodile tongue thingies, concocted with all manner of icky bits and bobs that need not be mentioned. In a moment of klutziness James trips, spilling the contents of the bag, which wriggle off haphazardly. One, however, seems to take a liking to a dead fruit tree and soon it sprouts a peach. The peach then grows. And grows some more. And then it becomes seriously, mammothly, ginormous. Well hey, perhaps the Big Peach is a start?

While Aunties Hag and Haggier try to exploit the peach for financial gain, a stray leftover crocodile glowy tongue thingummyjig finds its way into James – who in turn finds his way into the peach, where he turns all claymation and stuff before meeting the fruit’s inhabitants – a centipede, a grasshopper, a spider, a ladybug, an earthworm and a glow worm, all of which are somewhat enormous and James sized. Our unusual gang make good their escape from the clutches of the evil aunts, doing the roly-poly thing down a hill before finding themselves all at sea – or in the “big puddle” if you prefer. Faced with all manner of dangers including massive, gnashing mecha-sharks, pirate Skellingtons and even good old hunger (until the “duh!” realisation hits) our intrepid team, helped by some obliging seagulls, soldier on in search of their goal – hey, Noo Yawk, alright?

Basically it’s all a simple, generally sweet tale of the magic of love and friendship, not to mention the power of positivity – and it beats the dickens out of any stupid motivational tape you could ever name, let alone much of the abject tripe masquerading as children's entertainment nowadays. The transition from real world to an animated one is handled deftly, and the claymation is easily the most fluid seen by this little reviewer outside of the benchmark work of Aardman. As well as the decidedly British on-screen cast, top names the likes of Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss and Frasier’s Jane Leeves provide character voices – their skills bringing Dahl’s tale to life in a suitably magical, ever-so-slightly off kilter way. What a shame then about the unfortunate tendency to break out into $%#*ing songs every so often – and pretty weak ones at that. Mind you, when you notice that the songwriter is that guy only a Walt could love in Randy Newman, well… Memo to the Disney bods – there are many, many, many other composers in the world, bursting with talent, originality and boundless creativity. Please try using them for a change?

  Video
Contract

A quote from the packaging of James and the Giant Peach reads thusly… “This film is presented in a letterbox format preserving the scope aspect of its original theatrical exhibition”. BZZT! Wrong!

All research indicates that the film was intended to be shown in a ratio of 1.85:1, yet it comes to us at home at 1.66:1, with no anamorphic enhancement. Mind you, this isn't uncommon for Disney children's flicks. In all, the picture we get is good without being stunning. The one part which really shines is the colour – from water-coloured hues to the most vivid of vivid shades you could ever possibly dream of, they all look resplendent. Blacks too are good, however detail isn’t always exactly at a premium, with an ever so slight sheen of fuzziness blanketing proceedings (which some may consider apt considering the general peachiness of proceedings). Otherwise the odd speckle can be spotted on rare occasions if you keep a keen eye out, but nasty artefacts such as blocking or aliasing are pleasingly absent.

  Audio
Contract

Toting about a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix within its peachy interior, things on the sonic front are nothing but good. Generally pottering along nicely in a fairly front-centric way, the rears and subwoofwoof often burst into sudden life with dramatic effect, adding much to the film’s sneaky ability to suck you into its little world.

As for the music – well, if you bothered to read up above (thankyou) you’ll know what to expect. For those slothful sods who couldn’t be shagged reading the lovingly constructed feature synopsis here are but two words for you – “Randy” and “Newman”. Which, of course, are infinitely worse than the two words you may have thought you’d be reading there…

  Extras
Contract

To another two words, “Special” and “Edition”. These particular carefully formed series’ of letters seem to have lost their meaning somewhat in the DVD world of late. Take for example, if you will, this definition from Amy’s trusty, extremely dog-eared but much loved dictionary, “exceptional in amount”. James and the Giant Peach has these two words gleefully plastered across its front cover in rather sizeable lettering, so with much anticipation let’s just check out all the oddles of extras we get…

Production featurette: A peek behind the scenes, with the occasional brief interview with the odd cast or crew member, a few film clips and a sporadic behind the scenes shot or two. This full frame presentation clocks in at an remarkably meaty 4:33…

Music video - Good News by Randy Newman: Actually, the only good news here is that it’s short – 2:28 to be precise.

Theatrical trailer: A 1:27 exercise promoting yet another “Most exciting motion picture adventure of the year”. Perhaps it was 1996’s – maybe there’s a register for such things somewhere, so the guy who does trailers can check to make sure he’s not telling us that every film is the most exciting motion picture adventure of the year like he seems to – after all, there must be truth in advertising, mustn’t there?

Well perhaps not, as getting back to this “Special Edition” thing, the three paltry extras listed above are all that’s on offer here. We don’t even get the picture galleries that our region 1 comrades were given. Or the DTS track for that matter… Humph!

  Overall  
Contract

It’s no Willy Wonka (mind you, what is?), however James and the Giant Peach is another enchanting Roald Dahl tale brought to life lovingly by a group of very clever people. There’s not a heap for the more grown up adults to sink their teeth into, and it would be wise to advise a bit of care in letting littler kiddies loose on this as there are some seriously menacing moments, but if you’re lucky enough to still be in touch with your inner child, or have introduced your rug rats to the world of Dahl without leaving them in need of significant psychiatric treatment, then this movie’s quite a peach.

Oh come on, like you didn’t see that one coming?!


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      And I quote...
    "It’s no Willy Wonka, however James and the Giant Peach is another enchanting Roald Dahl tale lovingly brought to life..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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