Taika Waititi Helms ‘James and the Giant Peach’ Charity Reading With Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett

Taika Waititi - James and the
David Swanson/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (Waititi); Puffin Books

Oscar-winning director Taika Waititi is heading up a retelling of Roald Dahl’s classic “James and the Giant Peach” with an all-star cast to help in the fight against COVID-19.

Waititi, whose credits include “Thor: Ragnarok,” “The Mandalorian” and “Jojo Rabbit,” hosts a complete reading of the entire book in 10 installments, featuring guests including Ryan Reynolds, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson and Cara Delevingne.

Waititi already is in business with the Roald Dahl Story Co.: Earlier this year he was announced as the writer, director and executive producer of two original animated series for Netflix based on Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Separately, he’s also on deck to direct a new “Star Wars” movie for Lucasfilm.

The celeb-studded “James and the Giant Peach” readings will be available exclusively on the official Roald Dahl YouTube channel, with the first two installments available Monday (May 18). The first episode features brothers Chris and Liam Hemsworth — performing together for the first time — alongside Nick Kroll. Episode 2’s readers are Meryl Streep and Benedict Cumberbatch. The remaining installments will be released Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PST/6 p.m. BST.

In a statement, Waititi said: “Being an adult child myself and having read ‘James and the Giant Peach’ to my girls multiple times, I’m excited to be able to partner with my friends, the Dahl team and Partners In Health and retell this story to help those most in need right now. This wacky, wonderful tale is about resilience in children, triumph over adversity and dealing with a sense of isolation which couldn’t been more relevant today.”

The “James and the Giant Peach” book reading will raise funds for Partners In Health, a global health nonprofit founded by Roald Dahl’s daugther, Opehlia Dahl, whose mission includes fighting COVID-19 and supporting public health systems in the most vulnerable parts of the world. The Roald Dahl Story Co. announced a donation-matching commitment of up to $1 million. The company recently donated $1.3 million to PIH for maternal health in Sierra Leone.

Stars who are joining Waititi to read over the course of the 10 episodes include: Utkarsh Ambudkar, Cate Blanchett, Jamie Cullum, Benedict Cumberbatch, Roman Griffin Davis, Cara Delevingne, Cynthia Erivo, Beanie Feldstein, Josh Gad, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Mindy Kaling, Nick Kroll, Kumail Nanjiani, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Billy Porter, Gordon Ramsay, Eddie Redmayne, Ryan Reynolds, Ben Schwartz, Meryl Streep, Tessa Thompson, Olivia Wilde, Ruth Wilson and Archie Yates.

Ophelia Dahl commented: “My dad instilled in us as kids the notion that imagination will spark a chain reaction of possibilities — we can dream endlessly about ideas and make them real… We’re so grateful to Taika Waititi and the Roald Dahl Story Company for pulling together this extraordinary initiative and amazing array of talent. It will undoubtedly help in the fight against the long-standing health inequities we see in many parts of the world.”

Donations can be made to Partners In Health at pih.org/james-and-the-giant-peach.

“James and the Giant Peach,” first published in 1961, was Dahl’s first children’s book and among his most beloved titles with over 28 million copies sold to date globally.

In the story, orphan James Henry Trotter — who lives with two horrible aunts — discovers a massive, magical peach in the garden, in which he embarks on a surreal adventure with seven anthropomorphic garden bugs. The late author’s company, in announcing the Waititi-hosted reading series, said the book’s “themes of resilience, perseverance and the enduring power of friendship feel more relevant now than ever.”