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As always, Cranky makes no comparisons to source material, in this case the classic children's tale by Roald Dahl. Thirty years and still going strong . . .
Perhaps all great stories are meant to be told again and again. Perhaps that is what makes them great. So it is no small wonder that James and the Giant Peach uses as its inspiration (to these eyes) some of the greatest stories ever to be to told to children or adapted to movies. That alone could doom this wondrous piece of stop-motion animation. But it is only a springboard to an enchanting and enthralling world and a very enjoyable time spent in the dark.
James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry) was orphaned, so he is told, when a rampaging rhinoceros gobbled up his parents in 35 seconds flat. He is left in the care, so to speak, of two mangy old aunts (Miriam Margolyes and AbFab's Joanna Lumly) and dreams of a place his father told him of, a place where dreams comes true, called New York City. The evil Aunties crush James' hopes and dreams every chance they get. Okay, that's Cinderella and The Wizard of Oz accounted for, acknowledged, and forgotten. One more to go.
One day a mysterious man (Pete Postlethwaite) shows up with a bag of squiggly little glowing green things. "Crocodile tongues," he says. "They'll work their magic on the first thing they meet." Unlike Jack who planted a beanstalk, James trips and spills the bag at the foot of a barren peach tree. The tree sprouts fruit for the first time in years. The peach grows twenty feet tall. Dollar signs (pounds, actually, since this is set somewhere in the UK) grow in the eyes of the nasty aunts. Poor James is locked in his room, let out only to clean up the garbage around the now-on-display-to-the-public Peach. He sneaks a bite of a piece of the fruit, into which the very last of the squiggly green crocodile tongues has leapt, and the magic begins. The live actor is transformed, he is joined by a stop-motion cast of bug characters and together they roll, bounce, float and fly off into a series of adventures on their Journey to New York.
Of note among the character voices are Oscar winners Susan Sarandon (as a French-accented spider) and Richard Dreyfuss (as a blustery-Brooklynite cigar-chomping centipede). It's a good piece of work when recognizable voices such as theirs are not -- you don't sit there thinking "oh, that's Sarandon doing a French accent". I can't say the same for Jane Leeves (of TV's Frasier) who makes not a change to her vocal style as Miss Ladybug, and left me in my seat thinking, "I know who that is. Who is that?" Once I remembered, I filed it away and continued to enjoy the movie.
I do emphasize the word ENJOY. For all these nit-piddling temporarily bothersome distractions I've mentioned are just that. Temporary. For each one of those distractions, the makers of James place a stunning bit of animation wizardry on the screen. The point being, while I may have been distracted by minor story and voice points, I was not by the advances in animation technology. I did not sit there, while "water" dripped off the side of the peach, thinking, "gee, what a great advance in animation technology. They must have combined CGI (computer generated imagery) and classic cel work."
I sat there, jaw hanging open, mumbling "Wow!"
Director Henry Selick and his crew of animators take all they displayed in The Nightmare Before Christmas a couple of notches up the ladder. There are detailed birds flying; movements while suspended in midair; underwater sequences; combinations of animation styles (including a great Terry Gilliam-esque cut-out nightmare sequence) and methods -- things an animation fiend like Cranky took absolute delight in. If Nightmare reintroduced us all to a form of animation we hadn't seen since Art Clokey's Gumby, James makes us all say -- well, I'm repeating myself -- Wow!
As in Toy Story, Randy Newman delivers the score and songs and, as in Toy Story, they don't get in the way.
James and the Giant Peach has enough "scary" stuff that I wouldn't bring in any kid under 2 or 3. I'll fall back on my Toy Story comparison. If you have a child who was frightened by the neighbor (Sid), don't bring your kidlet to see James. Otherwise, feel free.
If you don't have a kid, bring a date, go home and make some kids and show them the video when they're old enough. Or hope for a re-release. James is something that should be seen on a big screen.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for James and the Giant Peach, he would have paid . . .
And, in reality, it's more like $7.50, but the Disney marketeers added something to the show that totally knocked me for a loop and distracted my thinking processes for way too long.
They opened with a trailer for this summer's Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Shoot me and send me to animation heaven. You couldn't have pried me off the chair with a crowbar. If the story adaptation comes close to the technological advancements I saw -- yes I noticed them. No they did not distract -- this is The Lion King's opening and stampede sequences to the nth degree. And I'd pay the full eight bucks just to see that trailer.
This is going to be a great summer.
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