As a kid, stop motion films were never my forte. I avoided Nightmare Before Christmas until I was in my teens and the holiday classics I never took much interest in. Just about the only stop motion film I watched when I was younger was James and the Giant Peach and I can remember only one isolated incident of that. I seem to recall enjoying the film, so when this Blu-ray was announced I was excited to watch it again as it was probably well over a decade since I’d last seen it. Sadly I think I know why, after watching this film on Blu-ray, I wasn’t a fan of stop motion animation as a kid…and I think I can lay that blame solely on this film.
After the daring rescue of a spider, a young boy named James gains possession of some magic crocodile tongues. When James spills them in the garden, out sprouts an enormous peach! Climbing inside, he meets an astonishing cast of characters and embarks on a magical odyssey full of thrills and adventure. Voiced by an all-star cast, including legendary actors Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon, Simon Callow and Jane Leeves, and featuring the celebrated music of Randy Newman, this classic story is delicious entertainment for the whole family!
So the film opens up in live action (and in truth the film is split between stop motion and animation, as a good thirty to forty minutes of it is live action) and we’re introduced to James and his grandiose life with his parents. Within minutes of this scenario being painted before us his parents are killed by a white rhino in a cloud (what the–?) and forced to live with his abusive aunts. It’s kind of like a Cinderella type story with the stepsisters, but probably worse because they’ve somehow made the aunts not only absolutely reprehensible to gaze upon but also paired them with some of the worst personalities imaginable. This was a great way to drive home the point that they suck and poor James was saddled with a life that was far, far worse than the one he had with his parents, but I was filled with more hate for just how mean they were than anything. In fact it was so bad I didn’t even want to watch the film, which was kind of a bad thing when you think about it.
Anyway the film eventually progresses on with James meeting up with a scary dude who gives him a sack of nuclear powered (at least they look it, glowing all green like) worms. Seconds after being told to be incredibly careful with them, James dumps the sack of these worms all over the ground and they go everywhere. Eventually this big ass peach on a tree grows and then James goes to munch on it (I’m skipping past the whole aunts selling tickets to see it, because it seemed like kind of a strange sidestep) and then another worm jumps into what James is eating and he begins tripping out of his mind and then crawls into a mystical hole into the peach.
This is all actually happening in reality too, apparently, which is fine because this movie is strange as hell. I knew immediately while watching it why I disliked stop motion films as a kid—because I thought they were all as strange and disturbing as this film. I mean once you get into the stop motion parts it’s not so bad—it’s a fun little musical outing for the kids, but the incredibly depressing life that James leads, devoid of friends and parents and forced to do remedial work by his jerk aunts…it’s kind of a depressing load for a young mind to take on. Then again maybe I’m reading into it more now than my younger mind did…but this is a serious downer of a film for the most part. The basic story is that James and his bug friends want to get away from their old lives because they suck so badly.
There are some great little triumphant moments in the film, most of which come at the very end. But overall I really don’t think I’ll be revisiting this peach of a film anytime soon—it not only is filled with characters I genuinely dislike and cannot stand to watch, but the songs and animation are really nothing special. I enjoyed the quirky looking live action sets more than anything (especially that shot of the house on the hill—the field of vision play was interesting, even if it was terribly obvious what was full size and what wasn’t) and as nice as the stop motion stuff was…it was just a very strange and dark tale for a children’s movie. And as an adult I just found it mildly depressing more than anything, so it’s truthfully not something I’d want to spend any more time with. Worth a Rental if you liked Nightmare Before Christmas is just for the Jack Skellington cameo.
On the flipside, even after I didn’t really enjoy this film I looked forward to watching the extras that Disney cooked up for this release…until I saw there really weren’t any. Underneath the fancy slipcover (complete with foil and embossing) was just a standard Elite Blu-ray two-disc case with a Blu-ray and DVD inside. Inserts for other Disney products and services are included and the menu system is nice and easy to navigate.
Video is an AVC encoded 1.66:1 1080p transfer and given its age it looks pretty spectacular. It doesn’t appear to have been cleaned up nearly as much as Nightmare was, as there are quite a few scenes where grain rears its ugly head (notably the early live action shots in the film). This isn’t a really bad thing, as it maintains the integrity of the image without smearing it away with DNR but it still looks a bit off putting at times. Thankfully once we get into the full stop-motion sequences we get a much clearer picture, although there is still a slight haze about it. There’s nothing in the film that really pops with color either—the peach is truthfully the brightest thing in it…I think the only daytime sequence was the early ocean traversing bit with the steampunk shark (which was admittedly quite cool). In any case it’s a solid looking transfer but not quite as clean and clear as fans would probably hope.
The audio, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, on the other hand is quite clean and clear. In fact it’s rather robust, with plenty of surround work and beefy sound effects that light up the subwoofer. Whether it’s the aforementioned shark scene or the peach rolling about, there’s plenty of oomph to the sound mix. Plus the seagull and underwater pirate ship scenes had a great ambience about them as well, so from start to finish there was plenty about this film to enjoy aurally. Plus those lightning clouds with the white rhino were positively deafening at times—kudos to Disney on this audio track. I didn’t think a fourteen year old cartoon could sound this good.
Moving onto the extras:
• Spike the Aunts Interactive Game – New BD Exclusive! Inspired by the game that plays after the end movie credits, try your hand at spiking the evil aunts with the rhino and ring up major points!
• Production Featurette – A look at the making of the film.
• “Good News” Music Video performed by Randy Newman
• Still Frame Gallery
• Original Theatrical Trailer
Aside from the interactive game (yawn), the other extras should look familiar—they’re all the same that were on the previous DVD release (which is included here as well). Quite a downer.
Overall unless you’re a fan of the film then this is a strict Rental. I’m glad I finally got to see it again after all these years and with such clear video and audio, but in the end I wasn’t quite as pleased with it as I had hoped.
James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition arrives on Blu-ray on August 3rd.