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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Fantasy > Fairy Tale > Comedy > Children > Computer CG > James & The Giant Peach – Special Edition (1996/Disney Blu-ray)

James & The Giant Peach – Special Edition (1996/Disney Blu-ray)


Picture: B      Sound: A-     Extras: C     Film: B+



It is frustrating to think many people claim The Nightmare Before Christmas as their favorite Tim Burton film, when in fact it is a Henry Selick film.  But it must be even more frustrating to Henry Selick who went on to direct James and the Giant Peach in a similar style to The Nightmare Before Christmas (although nowhere near as dark) that is also often mistaken as a Burton film.  Now it is fair to say that Burton did have the original idea for Nightmare while at Disney, but regardless of that it is a Henry Selick effort.  James and the Giant Peach, as previously mentioned, is nowhere near as dark as Nightmare, but it does have the same heart and soul.


James and the Giant Peach is a 1996 film based on a Roald Dahl book by the same name.  The film is a minimal blend of live action and stop –motion animation; the live action sequences taking place at the beginning and end of the film.  James and the Giant Peach is a brilliant fantasy film that seamlessly blends musical numbers, action, horror and everything in between.  Though the film did not receive the praise and acclaim of Nightmare Before Christmas, it does have a sizable cult following by both Roald Dahl fans and animation fans alike.


The film starts off in live action with James living a peasant like life with his abusive, ugly aunts Spiker and Sponge in England; think of it as a Cinderella-esque tale.  James Henry Trotter’s parents died in a horrible accident where they were “eaten by a demonic rhino” and his aunts have “raised him” since.  James is not allowed to live the life of a normal boy, spending most of his time locked up with his only friend being a window spider.  One day a traveling salesman offers James a mysterious bag filled with green crocodile tongues that are meant to change his life, but he trips on the way home and the bouncy green tongues take root in an old peach tree.  Unbeknownst to James the crocodile tongues have extraordinary affects on the old tree and its inhabitants; at first with the appearance of a giant peach.  Spiker and Sponge see profit in the peach, showcasing it and selling tickets/pictures for profit.  One day James decides to venture inside the peach only to find that it is inhabited by giant anthropomorphic insects, who it quickly befriends.  The peach rolls down the old hill and the bugs with the boy are flung into the Atlantic Ocean with the intention of heading to New York City for a better life.  The crew of the peach soon gets airborne when they use Ms. Spider’s silk web to capture a flock of seagulls to aid them on their way.  So join Mr. Grasshopper, Mr. Centipede, Ms. Spider, Mrs. Lady Bug, Ms. Glowworm, Mr. Earthworm and James as they head for New York City with many adventures along the way.


The film is absolutely wonderful and one of this reviewer’s all time favorites.  There is something about stop-motion animation that CGI can NOT capture.  It is comparable to using real costumes in films versus all CGI creatures (*cough* George Lucas *cough*).  The film has life, depth and heart like no other and fully holds up to today’s standards if not better.  This film is classic Disney through and through with so much magic it is busting at its peachy seams.


Whereas the film is fantastic and the previously released Nightmare Before Christmas Blu-ray is one of the best on the market, James and the Giant Peach’s video is not impressive in the slightest.  The first question I asked myself when viewing James was “is my TV broken?”  The 1080p High Definition 1.66 X 1 transfer looks dull, washed and stripped of life.  Even with the film arriving three years after Nightmare it looks astonishingly worse as it lacks the depth, detail, colors and deep inky blacks that made the Nightmare Blu-ray so memorable.  The film has an odd cloud about it from beginning to end, obscuring the fine details and stripping away the brilliance of the stop-motion feature.  The colors are not bright and the blacks are far from inky; with crushing occurring frequently in the darker sequences, making it hard to make out what is what.  I must say that the film does look better than the prior DVD release as Disney has erased debris, dirt and digital noise; but everything else about the image leaves the viewer asking why?  There is no reason that the image should not have been just as memorable and stunning as The Nightmare Before Christmas.


Taking the technical reviewer in a different direction is the sound.  WOW!  The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless mix is totally up to Disney standards as it is immersive and knocks your animated socks off with its power and range.  It sounds like an action flick, but it is a pleasant children’s tale…amazing.  Every speaker is utilized with full ambient noise range, solid directionality and immersive speaker use with booming bass.  The viewer is surrounded by the film in every way with voices coming clearly and music crisper than ever.  Bravo to the sound department.


The extras are sad, sad, sad.  Every bonus feature has been ported over in standard definition from the previously released DVD; making for less than 10 minutes of extras.  Bonus features include a Production Featurette (4 mins), “Good News” Music Video by Randy Newman, Film Trailer and a boring Still Gallery.  There is ONE new HD feature, which is a nonsensical game where you see how many time you can poke Spiker and Sponge with a rhino horn…all in all useless.


In the end, James and the Giant Peach is one of the best animated films of all time; inspired by a Roald Dahl classic and projected with all the same heart and creativity.  My gripe with this release lies in the picture quality and extras.  I would have gladly waited another year for this release if Disney had spent the time to do the picture right and give us some much deserved extras.  If you don’t own the film already or are as big of a fan as I am than Blu-ray is the way to go, but don’t expect the picture to be demo quality.


It certainly is a world beyond your imagination.



-   Michael P. Dougherty II


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