Combining the mesmerizing stop-motion animation advanced in The Nightmare before Christmas with Toy Story-style digital animation as well as live action, James and the Giant Peach is a delightfully demented creation that’s every bit as surreal and scary as it is touching and, ultimately, uplifting.
The pairing of filmmaker Henry Selick and late fiction weirdmeister Roald Dahl must have seemed inevitable after 1993’s offbeat and dazzling Nightmare. Add to the mix the anti-Pollyanna vision of children’s book illustrator Lane Smith [pic’s ‘conceptual designer’], and the usually dark composer-songwriter Randy Newman in an uncharacteristically sweet mode, and voila, this Peach, a strange, and strangely wonderful, fairy tale.
Yarn opens with a brief, live-action prologue in which young James (Paul Terry), lives a carefree life by the British seashore. When James is orphaned he is remanded to the custody of his hideous aunts, the fat, preening Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) and the skinny, pitiless Spiker (Joanna Lumley).
One day, a mysterious Old Man (Pete Postlethwaite) gives James a bag of glowing green crocodile tongues. The boy drops some of them near a long-dead tree and immediately a peach begins growing. The live-action gives over to animation when the boy, himself now transformed into an animated figure, encounters the six bugs who will become his new family, as the peach eventually rolls down to the sea and they set sail for Gotham.
Audiences will have a great time identifying the bug voices: Simon Callow gives the Grasshopper his gentle reserve; ditto Jane Leeves the prim Ladybug, David Thewlis the Earthworm and Margolyes, who doubles as the sweet Glowworm. But the sure-fire keepers are Richard Dreyfuss, as the cigar-chomping, wise-cracking Centipede, and Susan Sarandon as a Spider so Garbo-like she even gets to say, at one point, ‘I prefer to be alone.’
Both the score and the film reach their pinnacle in ‘We’re Family’, a soaring anthem of acceptance and love as the peach sails aloft through space.
1996: Nomination: Best Original Music Score