Wednesday, December 23, 2015

James and the Giant Peach (1996) Review:

Nowadays, the concept of stop-motion animation is quite unpopular. Thankfully it hasn't died but it is unfortunately not resorted to that often anymore. During the early 1990s, this classic and unique animation technique began getting dropped from film projects because of its "next best" replacement - CGI. With the demonstration of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), that CGI could be controlled and used correctly, many movie studios want it to be in their upcoming projects. For that reason alone, stop-motion animation was left behind when it came to live-action films. But there were others who thought differently. Also in the early 1990s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) was released to the public and became one of the greatest holiday films of its decade. Behind the wheel of this vehicle was a small time filmmaker named Henry Selick. Since then his filmography has been quite small but to this day has made sure his films contained stop-motion in it. His second feature would be just as memorable to kids who grew up during this time and that was this.

"But first, let me talk a selfie,..."
Based on a children's book by Roald Dahl, the story is about a English youth named James (Paul Terry) who looks to visit New York City but lives under the strict rule of his aunts Sponge and Spiker (Miriam Margolyes & Joanna Lumley) after the death of his parents. Then, unbeknownst to him, a stranger (Pete Postlethwaite) appears and gives him magical trinkets that'll help make his dreams come true. This arrives in the form of a giant peach that harbors future insect friends. These characters are Mr. Grasshopper (Simon Callow), Mr. Centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), Mrs. Ladybug (Jane Leeves), Ms. Spider (Susan Sarandon) and Mr. Worm (David Thewlis). The adaptation of Dahl's book was written by Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run (2000)), Jonathan Roberts (The Lion King (1994)) and Steve Bloom (Jack Frost (1998)) and for the majority of the film, it's practically the same. Plus, the character development and overall message of the story is well thought out and optimistic.

The character development focuses on learning to accept one's differences and understand how each individual brings unique benefits to certain situations. The overall message in the story is to never stop believing and always look on the positive side of things. These are life lessons that everyone needs to know about no matter how old you are when viewing this film. For acting, although Paul Terry quit the profession not long after this film, for a child actor he's not bad (or annoying). His appearance is innocent and feels genuine in physical form and voice work. Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley as James' aunts are quite the opposite and they do it well. Being gross and greedy is their shtick. The supporting cast of voice actors who bring James' bug friends to life are enjoyable too. Simon Callow as Mr. Grasshopper plays quite the upperclassmen that isn't snooty enough to talk to someone below his level. Richard Dreyfuss as the wisecracking centipede has a number of funny lines either when it comes to himself or certain situations he's in.

Jane Leeves as Mrs. Ladybug is sweet and also shows feminine strength when called for. David Thewlis as Mr. Worm plays with a Scottish accent and sometimes fears the worst but too learns to cope. Lastly Susan Sarandon as Ms. Spider uses a Russian accent and although she's a bit colder than her counterparts, she too has a charming attitude. However even with these positives the writing isn't perfect. One of the screenplays biggest blunders is its continuity. There were moments where claims are made about certain dangers and yet a minute later, the labeled danger will no longer be a threat for unexplained reasons. Another example is how James and co. weren't able to find their way to NYC without a compass, yet a map that James has clearly shows them which direction they are traveling as they move. Seems a little pointless to go find something that'll help you when you already have what you need. The other problem is that the way this story was written is the strange reality that James' lives in feels illogical.

That animation though,...=)
For this, there are certain things that should have an expected facial reaction but the exact opposite is portrayed. It just doesn't look right. For animation, as mentioned before stop-motion was used and it looks great. The jagged and tangible like edges to the characters give them a likable visual appeal. The live-action is also well done too. This also goes hand-in-hand with both live-action and animated cinematography provided by Hiro Narita and Pete Kozachik respectively. Narita's work efficiently shows the contrast between James' past and current life and how all the fun was sucked out of it. Kozachik on the other hand effectively conceals the illusion of various matte painting backdrops to help make the animated world feel bigger than life. Lastly Randy Newman composed the film score a year after the massive success of his work on Disney's Toy Story (1995). Here Newman's music feels like his, but also has bits that sound like Danny Elfman got in on a few areas too. Either way it is fun to listen to and with its catchy songs.

The script has decent character development and has important life lessons for people to reacquaint themselves with despite it having some noticeable continuity errors. Also some characters react oddly to certain implausible situations as if they were entirely acceptable. This aside, the characters are charming, the music is enjoyable and the visuals are delightfully engaging with the help of stop-motion animation.

Points Earned --> 7:10

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