James and the Giant Peach – Capsule Review

Don’t be surprised if, much like the titular fruit, you feel you’ve been cast adrift in this live-action/stop-motion animated adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s classic. The story of a boy’s fanciful trip to New York City, accom¬panied by the insect inhabitants of a massive peach, seems to have been a victim of an historic round of studio second-guessing, marked by a formless story (What lesson does James acquire from his flight across the ocean – well, he does at least learn one way to avoid the inconvenience of a trip through customs), flat characterizations (only Susan Sarandon’s coolly seductive spider hits any depth past the obvious and the treacly), and an overabundance of truly hideous and completely pointless songs (hey, I admire Randy Newman as much as anybody, but while a song like “Eating the Peach” – in which the insects exult over all the effluvia and offal they have ingested in their lives ¬ must have sounded great when delivered in the composer’s irony-laced monotone, it’s practically unbearable in its final, jolly incarnation).
As with THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, director Henry Selick’s animation is wonderfully expressive and impressively surreal – the film features many stylistic nods to Selick’s far more fascinating short film, SLOW BOB IN THE LOWER DIMENSIONS. Looks can go only so far, however, and without the benefit of Tim Burton’s sardonic instincts (not to mention Danny Elfman’s minor-key proficiency), JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH sinks in the mire of its own syrup.

(Walt Disney, 4/96, 80 mins. ) Director: Henry Selick. With: Paul Terry, Susan Sanodon, Richard Dreyruss, Joanna Lumley.

This review originally appeared in the August 1996 issues of Cinefantasitque, Volume 28, Number 1.