Have you ever wondered why fruit only grows to a certain size? What would happen if it didn’t stop growing? These were the thoughts that went through the writer’s mind when coming up with ideas for his book while strolling his fruit orchard day after day. Roald Dahl, author of James and the Giant Peach, went through A LOT to get his book done and finalized, but never had any intention of ever bringing his book into a movie reality – convinced that the story was too difficult to translate to the screen. Only after his death did his second wife, Felicity (or Liccy as he called her), allowed for it to be released with hope that Henry Selick (director of The Nightmare Before Christmas) would direct it.
With Dahl’s daughter, Lucy, impressed by the director’s stop-motion style, all was set for the big screen. I can definitely vouch for the film’s ability to exude the essence of The Nightmare Before Christmas with its theatrics, grim realities, and odd set of characters. But that should come as no surprise considering Tim Burton co-produced this film, alongside Denise Di Novi. The movie has everything to offer to fill a child’s head with wonder and despair.
A story about a boy named James Henry Trotter (starring Paul Terry), who under traumatic circumstances involving a “stormy” rhinoceros, is left in the custody of his wretched aunts. Seriously what is that thing??
One day, a mysterious overly dressed loon appears before James (played by Pete Postlethwaite) offering him a way to make marvelous things happen. Except get this, …he offers him crocodile tongues in a bag. In actuality they look like glowing green pasta noodles that move and squirm making high-pitched noises. The only directions given in order to escape this “Cinderella”-like life, is to keep the tongues to himself or else they’ll give their wondrous magical blessings onto anything or anyone else they meet first.
Unfortunately, Aunt Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Aunt Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) caused James to trip and fall and all his bugs went astray. Before their eyes, a peach begins to grow on the tree behind them to unnatural proportions. As James finally gets his hands on some food, he consumes a small portion of the enormous peach, with a worm inside of it unknowingly. Immediately the peach reveals an entrance into its massive depths, to which James crawls inside to find a lively bunch of insects.
The Grasshopper (Simon Callow), a most charming gentleman of old-fashioned taste; the Earthworm (David Thewlis), blind and afraid of the world around him; the Centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), a bug who can talk the talk but can he walk the walk too? Last but not least, Mrs. Ladybug (Jane Leeves), a sweet soul who brings the heat when necessary, and Miss Spider (Susan Sarandon) who seems intimidating at first, but if shown kindness she returns it tenfold.
Needless to say, the peach ends up disconnecting from the tree, and travels far and wide starting from the UK to the beyond. Before it does though, the peach manages to squash the Aunts’ car with them inside no less, and wrap a fence around it as if adorned with a wrap to make a walkway floor.
For being a Disney film, this movie went pretty dark and morbid. This poor boy not only loses his parents in a sweep of a moment, but has to endure child abuse and neglect from his horrible Aunts who make him feel miserable. Turning him into a full-time cleaning slave who is barely fed.
Of course he gets out of this sticky living situation by going on the adventure of a lifetime. Who doesn’t want to travel with newfound friends to the place of your dreams? James does just that, and learns lots of valuable life lessons along the way. Lessons that every child, and everyone, should know. One being, that first impressions are very important.
Dahl received a lot of criticism for the book being too sexual and inappropriate for children. To which his responded, “Up to now, a whole lot of grown-ups have written reviews, but none of them have really known what they were talking about because a grown-up talking about a children’s book is like a man talking about a woman’s hat.”
My favorite part is the run in with the skellington pirates underwater. Who better to have as a skeleton pirate captain than Jack Skellington?! I mean really. Only he’s less talk, more action in this role. But looking sharp as always!
I find this movie to be confusing (especially in the beginning where his parents vanish), witty and comical. The set-up of the environment looks straight out of a dark play or a doll’s morbid “play-land”. Either way you look at it, I always found it a delight to watch, whether as a child or an adult. I give this film 7 out of 10 stars!
- Dahl’s story doesn’t shy away from mature themes like death and child abuse, making it a target for book banners across the country. According to the American Library Association, it was #50 on the list of “Most Challenged Books 1990-1999.” People have also taken offense to the book’s surreal elements and supposed sexual suggestiveness. In 1986, a Wisconsin town banned the book over a scene in which Mrs. Spider licked her lips.
- Roald Dahl insisted that James look like Christopher Robin from Ernest Howard Shepherd’s illustrations in Winnie the Pooh. “A face with character is not so important as a face with charm,” he wrote to his editor at Knopf. “One must fall in love with him.”
- This is the last time Denise Di Novi was co-producer with Tim Burton.
- Sam Mendes is currently in early talks to direct a remake to “James and the Giant Peach.” – director of American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002), Skyfall (2012), and Spectre (2015).