James and the Giant Peach – Blu-ray Review

When a book is beloved by you, news of a film adaptation can be precarious. You want the film adaptation to live up to every fantastic image you’ve conjured up while reading it, but there’s always a chance that the director didn’t quite imagine the same things you did. Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book James and the Giant Peach features an array of colorful characters and some pretty evil villains; needless to say, plenty of things that could go terribly awry in a film adaptation.

James is a young boy who has recently been forced to live with his scary Aunts Spiker and Sponge after his lovely parents are tragically eaten by a rhinoceros in the clouds. Spiker and Sponge force him to do chores all day, sleep in the attic, and don’t give him any edible food. Poor James must make friends with the spider living in the tiny window in his room. James is visited one evening by a mysterious man with a can full of glowing “crocodile tongues”, which he promises will bring happiness to James. Delighted with his find, and also bewildered by the mysterious man, James trips, accidentally spills the “tongues”, and they all burrow into the ground among the roots of a peach tree.

The next day, the tree sprouts an enormous peach which Spiker and Sponge waste no time earning money showcasing the peach as a tourist attraction. At night, James hears noises coming from within the peach and crawls his way inside. He meets a Spider, a Centipede, an Earthworm, a Grasshopper, a Glowworm, and a Ladybug, and they all decide to leave the evil Aunts and head for New York City. James and his newfound friends have many adventures in the peach as they make their way across the ocean. When they arrive in New York City, James faces his aunts and his fears, and his friends help him overcome them.

The theme that children can overcome obstacles by themselves is a common one to Roald Dahl. While the movie strays a bit from the book, it still stays true to that theme. James is still the hero, and even if it’s not what he thinks he wants at the beginning of the film, he still finds the happiness that he is promised by the mysterious man. It’s important for children to learn that they are still in charge of their destinies, even though their goals might not come through the means they expect.

Also true to Dahl, the film features some pretty scary images. Aunts Spiker and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley) are the scariest in the film, but the smoke breathing, red-eyed rhino is a close second. As are the ghostly inhabitants of an underwater shipwreck (look for Jack Skellington in this scene) that James encounters.

James and the Giant Peach is a widely loved book, and this 1996 stop motion film is a lovely adaptation. The live-action sections of the film are just as quirky as the animated ones, and the styles meld perfectly. Roald Dahl never allowed a film adaptation of this book during his lifetime, but his widow applauded Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s film when it was released. “I think Roald would have been delighted with what they did with James,” she said. If that’s not a compliment to a film, I don’t know what is.

I remember seeing James and the Giant Peach in theaters when it was released, and numerous times on VHS and I never remember it being this clear. Disney has done an incredible job restoring this print for the Blu-ray release. The audio quality is also excellent. This and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief are two of the best sounding Blu-rays that I have ever experienced. Presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with Dolby Digital Sound.

Games and Activities

Spike the Aunts Game – First of all, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more than one game, when “Games and Activities” is given it’s own section of the Bonus Features menu. This game is really pretty difficult to figure out, and the graphics are pretty lame.

Original DVD Features

Production Featurette – This well-done Disney featurette shows the animation process, sculpting the puppets, and shows the voice actors. It’s always fun to watch these older featurettes to see how much everyone has changed. (4:34)

“Good News” Music Video by Randy Newman – Newman’s score was nominated for an Oscar, so this video is justified. But really, all I can think of anymore is that Family Guy segment…”left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot…” A good one for the kids to watch, as “Good News” is a pretty catchy gospel sounding song with plenty of movie footage thrown in. (2:29)

Still Frame Gallery – Scroll at your leisure through Concept Art, Puppets, Behind the Scenes, and Live Action stills.

Original Theatrical Trailer

Sneak PeeksBeauty and the Beast Diamond Edition on Blu-ray, Disney Movie Rewards, THE BEST anti-piracy commercial EVER (no seriously, I thought it was a real movie trailer for awhile), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Blu-Ray, Disneynature Oceans on Blu-ray, The Crimson Wing, Alice In Wonderland 60th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray, A Christmas Carol on Blu-ray, Disney Parks, Disney Blu-ray, Tangled, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue

James and the Giant Peach is still just as good (and scary) as you remember from 1996. The effects are still outstanding! However the Special Features are disappointing, as the only thing new is one fairly lame game. This Special Edition Blu-ray is worth owning for the visual and audio quality improvements alone.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents James and the Giant Peach. Directed by: Henry Selick. Starring: Joanna Lumley, Miriam Margolyes, Richard Dreyfuss, Pete Postlethwaite. Written by: Jonathan Roberts, Roald Dahl. Running time: 79 minutes. Rating: PG. Released on DVD: August 3, 2010.

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