It's a shame Henry Selick always gets stuck on the back burner so Tim Burton's name can be used to sell a movie. I understand that more people have heard of Burton, and if you ask everyday movie watchers who directed 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' most people would answer Tim Burton. That's just the name of the game in Hollywood. Burton is the brand, but Selick is the mastermind behind the operation and he deserves much of the praise.
Three years removed from the enormous success of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' 'James and the Giant Peach' was sold largely on the basis of Tim Burton's involvement, even if he was just a producer. Selick, using the original children's tale written by the incomparable Roald Dahl, created a quirky, stylized version of the story with his stop-motion cinematic signature.
James lives with his horrible aunts, Sponge and Spiker. In true Dahl storytelling the main adults are nothing more than caricatures of horrid people doing horrid things. Remember Matilda's family? James goes to live with his aunts after we're informed that his loving parents, who were going to take him to New York and live happily ever after, were gobbled up by a malevolent rhinoceros.
James is forced to do chores day in and day out, with nothing more than baked fish heads cooked for him by his unloving aunts. One day James is greeted by a wandering man who claims to know all about James and his miserable little life, his horrid aunts, and his ill-fated parents. The man comes bearing gifts, a container full of a thousand alligator tongues. Not just any alligator tongues, these are magical, for they'll change the fortune of whatever they come into contact with first. Too bad James spills them on the ground and they sink into the soil.
Soon after the alligator tongues escape into the dirt, a luscious peach begins to grow on a nearby tree which used to be barren. The peach grows larger and larger, until it weighs down the tree, when it becomes as big as a house, the aunts start charging admission to see it. As the story goes, James explores the peach, finds enormous bugs living inside, and ends up going on an adventure over the Atlantic Ocean with the peach strapped to hundreds of seagulls.
What's really fun about Selick's interpretation of Dahl's original story is that he never tries to make sense of it all. The story when read, seems just as random as it does on screen, like it came straight from the imagination of a child, a child who can play with a box for hours pretending it's everything from a spaceship to a race car. Selick is able to capture all the oddball nuttiness of the original tale, all while slapping on his personal stamp with his one-of-a-kind animation, which only adds to the whimsical feel of Dahl's story.
I'm not entirely sure if 'James and the Giant Peach' will hold up with today's youngsters who have been fed a steady diet of watered down CG flicks, but it's worth a try. It can be a bit frightening, especially when James and his friends meet a band of violent pirates under the ocean, but this is one movie that shouldn't be missed. Stop-motion adds a quality to films that just can't be had with even the best CG. Selick's work is almost flawless and just fun to behold. Sure even this movie has been and will be marketed with Tim Burton's name, but this is Selick's show and he again excels.
'James and the Giant Peach' came out three years after, 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' but sadly the transfer on this Blu-ray makes the film look like it's decades older.
'James and the Giant Peach's 1080p transfer unfortunately doesn't sport the attention to detail we've come to expect from most Disney Blu-ray presentations. The entire film looks drained of color, with a light haze obscuring just about everything. The haze smoothes over fine details, making it almost impossible to fully appreciate the stop-motion figures used for filming. Crushing is a frequent offender as darker scenes seem to gobble up faces and objects. Blacks never really approach anything considered inky, instead they waver around from dark to light grays. There's no reason this transfer shouldn't look as stunning as 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' did, but it doesn't. Not even close.
Overall, it's passable enough, as Disney has cleaned up the image so there's not even a hint of original source noise or digital anomalies, but the overall high-def pop just isn't there. Fans of the movie expecting a visual high-def feast will be sorely disappointed. I know I was.
At least the sound doesn't disappoint. Crank this baby up, because 'James and the Giant Peach' comes complete with a audio presentation that will rumble your home theater as much as any great explosion-filled action flick.
The moment the giant peach starts rolling down the hill into the village and out to sea, the soundtrack constantly pumps out a heavy bass-laden mix that is sure to delight. Complete with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio arrangement 'James and the Giant Peach' stands out in almost every area. I might even be inclined to say that some of the effects, like when the massive metal shark attacks, are almost too loud. This is a soundtrack that doesn't mince around, it goes for the jugular. Voices are cleanly placed in the center of the field, with fine directionality when the camera view changes, placing speaking characters off screen. Like I said the sound effects while the peach is rolling down the hill are phenomenal. I would have never thought a movie like this could pack such an low frequency punch. Surrounds work with stellar effect. Take for example the scene where the peach is being attacked by the metal shark. There's a second or so where the camera gives a POV of the shark's mouth. The metal teeth whir around the edges, as the rusted metal clanks along. That was a "wow" moment for me. You truly feel the clanging of the jagged metal surround you. If only the video would have been as jaw-droppingly awesome as the audio, we could have had another fantastic catalog Disney release to shout about.
All of the special features included here have been ported over from the previous DVD release.
'James and the Giant Peach' is a children's literary classic, and Selick does a great job at capturing the zaniness of Dahl's story without really trying to explain what it all means. It may be easy to get lost in the craziness of it all, but it's supposed to be that way. It's supposed to look and feel like it was extracted straight from a child's imagination, that's what makes it so fun. It's a shame that the video just doesn't deliver like Disney did with its 'Nightmare Before Christmas' Blu-ray release. The audio presentation is amazing, but without a stellar looking video release it's a little hard to give out a recommendation on this one. I would recommend renting it first to see what you think about how the video turned out on this one and make your decision from there.