by Aaron NeatheryDaily Cougar Staff
Pure children's stuff ... but as far as children's stuff goes, James and the Giant Peach is much better than most.
The original story by Ronald Dahl comes to the screen more or less intact, although its powerfully surreal aura has been considerably dimmed by a weak screenplay and seemingly dozens of awful songs that pop up whenever the action lags.
The young James dreams of escaping his evil aunts, Spiker and Sponge, his own parents having been "gobbled up" by a rhinoceros. His dreams of going to New York City are answered by a mysterious old man who brings James a bag of magical "crocodile tongues." But James accidentally spills the bag of glowing tongues at the base of a dead peach tree.
In no time, a massive peach appears, and Sponge and Spiker immediately build a tall fence around it and charge admission.
Picking up the trash after a day's show, James, famished, takes a bite out of a peach. A hole appears in the peach's side and James crawls in.
Once inside, James (now animated) meets a variety of insects who become his companions as they travel to New York City inside the giant peach.
Unlike its predecessor, The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach sets its sights too low. The former entertained practically everybody by maintaining a tongue-in-cheek attitude about itself while remaining sincere. The latter seems to pander to juvenile tastes in the tried and true Disney tradition. Overall, the guiding hand of Disney is very apparent. If you recall, Disney was a tad skittish about affixing its name to The Nightmare Before Christmas, opting instead to use the Touchstone label.
Director Henry Selick delves deeply into his bag of tricks and utilizes seemingly every possible kind of animation technique: stop-action, computer graphics, cel and cut-out animation. Selick delights in breakneck action sequences and has more opportunities here than in The Nightmare Before Christmas to display his skills. A battle with a huge mechanical shark easily provides the film's highlight, while a stunningly effective cut-out animation dream sequence harks back to Selick's even more surreal (and more entertaining) MTV short "Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions."
James and the Giant Peach is a good movie but you can get the impression that Selick and Skellington Productions might be more comfortable creating slightly more mature entertainment.