1996 was a good year. I was five years old for most of it, Bill Clinton beat what’s-his-name and was reelected President, and, of course, James And The Giant Peach was released. This is actually an interesting film for me to review since James And The Giant Peach is probably the most defining film of my childhood — of every movie out there, it was the one most responsible for my imagination and my nightmares. There is no movie that I look back on as fondly. Sadly, at 22 years old I have to question and criticize.
Directed by Henry Selick and based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, James And The Giant Peach is a mostly-claymated feature about a British boy’s escape to New York City with some interesting friends. James (Paul Terry) loses his parents to a “rhino” shortly before a trip to NYC, meaning plans changed and he has to live with his evil aunts Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margoyles). Abused and slave-driven, James isn’t all that thrilled about his life — that is, until an old man (Pete Postlethwaite) shows up and gives him a bag of magic worms. One thing leads to another and James is sailing to NYC in a giant peach with a giant spider (Susan Sarandon), centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), grasshopper (Simon Callow), ladybug (Jane Leeves), earthworm (David Thewlis), and glowworm (Margoyles).
As one would expect from a Selick flick, some musical numbers turn up and one character — a pirate skeleton — bears a striking resemblance to Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Interesting. Honestly, I wish that I had left this movie in my childhood. It really has been a very long time since I’ve seen it, and I hate that I have to make some judgements about it… I almost want to lie as I don’t have many positive things to say. It hurts to type these words and it will hurt even more to see them on display. So! Moving on.
James And The Giant Peach has a 79 minute runtime — in other words, it isn’t the longest running film one can find. It’s single (although big) problem is that the movie doesn’t feel even that long. Typically it’s a good sign when a movie “feels” shorter than it actually is, because it could mean that it engrosses the viewer so much that time is lost. In the case of James And The Giant Peach, however, it feels short because so little happens. If the actual runtime were longer, this movie would feel endless. Perceived length is an extremely interesting thing, and it’s exemplified here.
The claymation is great. The voice acting is great. Aside from those, I can’t find many more good things to say about James And The Giant Peach. I haven’t read the source material, but this movie is just boring. I can only speculate what fascinated me so much when I was a child — either I’m an anomaly or the way ideas presented — giant talking bugs, a liveable floating peach, and giant cloud rhinos — tap into the mind of a developing kid. In the case of the latter, if you’re a parent to a young kid(s), James And The Giant Peach might be a good thing to show him or her or them.
The only nightmare (or, rather, series of nightmares) I can remember are of rhinos killing me and/or my family. I remember them very clearly despite having been so long ago, and they are the direct result of James And The Giant Peach‘s “rhino”. On the exact flipside, I’ve spent a lot of time gazing at clouds and trying to make out shapes — another direct result of the movie. Something about James And The Giant Peach touched me, and, who knows, maybe it can touch other children (key word, apparently).
James And The Giant Peach is available for streaming on Netflix as of this writing if you still want to catch it. I, sadly, can’t say that I’ll be catching it again. I’m still very thankful for its existence and its role in improving my imagination — it’s an aspect of my life that I’ll never let go of, no matter how many of the movies I used to like are mediocre.