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James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 25, 2010 by  



“James the Giant Peach” is a musical fantasy film that brilliantly combined a live-action story with stop motion animation when it was released back in 1996.  A film that would entertain not only children and adults but also bringing the characters from Roald Dahl’s novel to life.  If you enjoyed this film back then or are looking for a new Blu-ray release for the children, you can’t go wrong with “James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition”.

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TITLE: James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition

DURATION: 79 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:66:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (Some Frightening Images)

RELEASE DATE: August 3, 2010

Based on the book by Roald Dahl

Directed by Henry Selick

Written by Karey Kirkpatrick, Jonathan Roberts, Steve Bloom

Executive Producer: Jake Eberts

Producer: Tim Burton, Deniese Di Novi

Co-Producer: John Engel, Brian Rosen, Henry Selick

Music by Randy Newman

Cinematography by Pete Kozachik (animation), Hiro Narita (live action), Eric Swenson (lighting cameraman)

Edited by Stan Webb

Casting by Brian Chavanne, Robin Gurland, Mary Hidalgo

Production Design by Harley Jessup

Art Direction by Bill Boes, Kendal Cronkite, Blake Russell, Lane Smith

Set Decoration: Kris Boxell

Costume Design by Julie Slinger

Starring:

Paul Terry as James

Simon Callow as the voice of Grasshopper

Richard Dreyfuss as the voice of Centipede

Jane Leeves as the voice of Ladybug

Joanna Lumley as the voice of Aunt Spiker

Miriam Margolyes as Aunt Sponge

Pete Postlethwaite as Old Man

Susan Sarandon as the voice of Miss Spider

David Thewlis as the voice of Earthworm

Steven Culp as James Father

Susan Turner-Cray as James’ Mother

Mike Starr as Beat Cop

In an all-new special edition from Tim Burton, the acclaimed director of Alice In Wonderland, comes the astounding film that captured the hearts of fans and critics all across the world. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, Burton, Denise Di Novi and director Henry Selick combine a fascinating mix of live-action, stop-motion animation and computer-generated special effects to create a world beyond your imagination in James and the Giant Peach: Special  Edition for the first time ever on Disney Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack.

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!

In recent years we have seen novels by author Roald Dahl receive an adaptation for the big screen.  From the 2005 film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to the stop-motion animated film “Fantastic Mr. Fox” in 2009, back in 1996, another stop-animation film adapted from a Dahl novel, titled “James and the Giant Peach”, was released by Buena Vista Pictures, produced by Tim Burton (director of “Alice in Wonderland”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Corpse Bride”, “Beetle Juice”, “Batman”) and Denise Di Novi (“Heathers”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Batman Returns”, “Ed Wood”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) and directed by Henry Selick (“Coraline”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”).

The film would feature a cast of well-known talent which include actress Joanna Lumley (“Absolutely Fabulous”), Miriam Margolyes (“The Black Adder”, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”), Simon Callow (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Howards End”), Richard Dreyfuss (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “American Graffiti”, “Jaws”), Jane Leeves (“Frasier”), Susan Sarandon (“Dead Man Walking”, “Thelma & Louise”), David Thewlis (“Harry Potter” films) and Pete Postlethwaite (“Inception”, “Clash of the Titans”).

The film is a live-action film in which the live action portions are used for the beginning and ending of the film but primarily utilize stop-motion animation.  The film also is a musical as there is a good amount of singing throughout the film.  Also, the film  is adapted from Dahl’s movel, it’s important to note that this film is easily accessible for children (although there are some scenes that may be a bit frightening for younger kids) but story-wise, the film is much more light-hearted than the original novel.

Originally released on VHS, the film was also released on DVD back in 2000 and with usual Disney re-releases taking place every 8-10 years, “James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition” receives its HD treatment with a 2-disc combo pack which includes both the Blu-ray and DVD edition.

The film revolves around a young boy named James (played by Paul Terry).  His parents plan to bring him to New York, a city of dreams that young James was looking forward to going to, until his parents were killed in an accident.

James ends up living with his mean aunts Spiker (played by Joanne Lumley) and Sponge (played by Miriam Margolyes) who mistreat him, make him do all the house chores and try to feed him fish heads and thus, James doesn’t eat all that much and is usually sad most of the time and thinking about New York.

Because they live in an isolated area, the only friends that James has are the bugs he encounters in his bedroom which includes a big spider in his room. But one day as his aunts were trying to kill a spider, James runs to rescue it and let it go outside.  And all of a sudden, he is visited by a mysterious man who gives him a bag of “crocodile tongues” and tells him that if he keeps them, it will make his life better.

As he carries the bag, he accidentally slips and some of the crocodile tongues spill out.  As his aunts come to check on him, they spot a peach in a peach tree that has never grown peaches for a very long time.

As they try to have James pick it, the peach starts to grown larger and larger and immediately, the aunt’s come up with a plan to commercially promote the giant peach for their own financial gain.  With the aunt’s able to bring a lot of people to see the peach, many people have left their trash around the giant peach and expect James to pick up all of it.

Since James has not eaten much, one night, he goes to the peach and grabs a chunk of it to eat.  And a hole opens up inside the peach in which James ventures inside the peach and ends up in an room inside the fruit (note: the live-action film then changes into stop-animation when James goes inside the peach).  Inside he meets Mr. old green grasshopper (voiced by Simon Callow), Mr. Centipede (voiced by Richard Dreyfuss), Mr. Earthworm (voiced by David Thewlis), Miss Spider (voiced by Susan Sarandon), Mrs. Ladybug (voiced by Jane Leeves) and Glowworm (voiced by Miriam Margolyes).

When James two aunts start to look for him, with James new friends also having been mistreated by the two aunts themselves, in a frantic act of desperation, Mr. Centipede cuts the branch that the peach is attached to and peach goes rolling around town and heads directly into the Atlantic Ocean.  Now James and his new friends must survive the ordeal as they travel inside a giant peach.

VIDEO:

“James and the Giant Peach” is a film that holds up quite well considering the animation was circa 1996.   The film is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:66:1).  The live-action portion of the film does show its age a little and there is a good amount of grain presented in the film.   The stop motion animation is well done and some portions are vibrant with colors and blacks are nice and deep.  Although a 16-year-old film, I felt the stop motion animation still holds up well today.

As for the DVD, the DVD is presented in widescreen (1:66:1) and is enhanced for 16×9 televisions and has been modified from its original version and formatted to fill your TV.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. The lossless soundtrack is fantastic as the center channel is clear for dialogue, the fronts do a good job in showcasing Randy Newman’s music (note: the film is also like a musical in which James and his friends are often singing) and with the film having its share of action scenes as the peach is rolling through the town or the group trying to survie in the ocean, there is a good use of the surround channels and LFE.

As for the DVD, the DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with French and Spanish language tracks.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition” comes with the following special features:

  • 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 – (4:34) A look at the making of the film featuring director Henry Selick and the cast of “James and the Giant Peach” who talk about taking part in the film and some being fans of the original book.
  • “Good News” Music Video performed by Randy Newman – (2:27) Presented in standard definition, the music video for “Good News” sung by Randy Newman.
  • Still Frame Gallery – With your remote, viewers can cycle through the various stills from the film.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer – (1:27) The original theatrical trailer and (1:25) “Tim Burton’s The Night Before Christmas” trailer.

Note: On the DVD, all special features are included except the “Spike the Aunts Interactive Game” and “Still Frame Gallery”.

“James the Giant Peach” is a musical fantasy film that brilliantly combined a live-action story with stop motion animation when it was released back in 1996.  A film that would entertain not only children and adults but also bringing the characters from Roald Dahl’s novel to life.

For many viewers today, it was wonderful to see how stop motion animation had evolved with another Roald Dahl novel to screen adaptation for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” in 2009 and director Selick managed to achieve a major animated hit that same year with “Coraline” but in 1996, many wondered if Henry Selick and producer Tim Burton can pull of another hit with “James and the Giant Peach” like they did with “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” back in 1993.

Back in 1996, I’ve felt that Selick was able to successfully bring “James and the Giant Peach” to the big screen an come up with an enjoyable family film aimed at children but I also felt that “James and the Giant Peach”, although entertaining, was short of being thought of as a classic and also despite being a stop motion fantasy film, I admit that at the time, I was comparing this film to “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” and felt underwhelmed.

While other reviewers at the time felt that the live action segments took away from the film, I was more impatient when it came to the musical numbers.

Where a viewer hopes to be pulled into a film by its musical numbers, I felt impatiently waiting for the musical segments to be done and get right back to the storyline.  I don’t think I enjoyed one song from the entire film and that’s hard for me to say since I really do enjoy Randy Newman’s music and what he has brought to many other films in his career.  I felt at the time that the musical numbers just took away the potential from the film which could have really used that time in developing the stop-motion animated characters and developing the characters even more.

With that said, it’s nearly 15-years later since I watched this film and now this time around, I have a young son who can watch it along with me and because this film is targeted more for the children, I can get an idea of how the film would be appreciated by a child versus through an adult’s eyes.

And sure enough, my son absolutely loved the film.  The concept of a boy and his friends riding a giant peach through the Atlantic Ocean and finding innovative ways of traveling captured his attention.  And through my son’s eyes, he felt more confused during the live-action segments as he didn’t understand why James’ parents were killed and why would a strange man give him a bag of “crocodile tongues”.  As for me, watching the film this time around, I actually enjoyed the live-action scenes much more because of Joanna Lumley’s role as Aunt Spiker and Miram Margolyes as Aunt Sponge.  Creepy characters but as actresses, I am now familiar with their work and it enhanced my appreciation for the film’s live action scenes a lot more.

As for the Blu-ray release, it’s great to see this film given the HD treatment and as mentioned in my video review, the film does show its age just a little and there is a good amount of grain which will please most HD fans but for those expecting more features versus its 2000 DVD counterpart, outside of just a BD-exclusive game that can be played on your remote, there is nothing else that is new.  It would have been great to have a director’s commentary by Henry Selick or even to have producers Tim Burton or Denise Di Novi chime in about the film many years later.   But unfortunately we are left with the original standard definition DVD features from 2000 and for a Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment release on Blu-ray, I was a bit surprised that nothing else new was included.

Overall, “James the Giant Peach” still manages to be a wonderful family film.  Granted, some children may be frightened by the pale and lifeless look at James’ mean aunts but other than that, I’m quite confident that if my seven-year-old enjoyed the film, many children out there will enjoy it as well.  And also you do get that bonus DVD included, so if your traveling this summer, you have another DVD for those long commutes.

“James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition” may not be appreciated by all grown ups but if you are looking for a new and fun family film for the family, definitely give this Blu-ray a chance!

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