Whenever the work of Roald Dahl comes to the screen, there is the risk that Hollywood will soften his dark wit. Not so here. James and the Giant Peach is true to the morbid humor of the book -- including the death of James' parents thanks to an "enormous angry rhinoceros."
That sad beginning, though, sets the stage for a tale of friendship and resilience, as James learns to rely on his own resourcefulness and his fellow travelers -- including a proper grasshopper voice by Simon Callow and a slinky spider voice by Susan Sarandon -- in order to escape to New York City.
Selick seems to delight in the visual potential of Dahl's absurdities, even adding his own wicked touches. The sharks from the book, for instance, here become a giant mechanical killer fish that belches steam and tries to reel the peach in by harpoon. It's only James' inspired idea to lasso a flock of seagulls that allows the peach to get away.
Kids Will Like:
Randy Neman's songs, which are little gems that have largely been forgotten. "Eating the Peach" -- with lyrics by Dahl -- prompts a delirious food fight among James and his friends. (Here's hoping it won't inspire your kids to do the same.)
Parents Will Like:
The painstaking effort that went into the puppetry. Not only does the peach have fuzzy hairs all over it, but when the characters walk on it you even notice that the fruit gives a bit under their weight.
Though the death of James' parents occurs off screen, it is an abrupt opening shock (and a vision of the rhinoceros appears later in the film). James' aunts are verbally abusive to him, while the intense dangers he faces on the journey include that mechanical shark and skeleton pirates (including one who looks an awful like Jack Skellington from A Nightmare Before Christmas).
Yes. As worthy of multiple visits as Dahl's book.