I decided to take a quick trip down memory lane the other day when I stumbled across James and the Giant Peach on Netflix. Not only had I seen the film a number of times as a child but I had also read the book it was based on by Roald Dahl. I did not remember much about the film, except for that it was weird. My memory served me correctly. James and the Giant Peach was a fun, entertaining film but there is no arguing that it is quite weird.
I don’t understand why, but having a depressing opening tends to be a theme with films made for children. Finding Nemo starts with an entire family of fish being eaten, other than Marlin and Nemo of course. In the beginning of Tarzan the gorillas lose their baby and Tarzan loses his family. In James and the Giant Peach, James’ parents are killed by a Cloud Rhino and he is forced to live with his physically and verbally abusive Aunts, Aunt Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Aunt Sponge (Miriam Margolyes). The film starts in live action as James attempts to survive life with his Aunts. Desperately wishing for friends and a different life, James’ chance to escape comes when a mysterious man (Pete Postlethwaite) offers James magic crocodile tongues. Losing them in the dirt, James falls asleep dismayed only to wake up and find that a giant peach has grown where he lost the tongues. James’ aunts turn the peach into a moneymaking scheme and again, James is treated like a slave. One night, out of the watchful eye of his aunts, James explores the Peach and finds a door inside.
Upon entering the Peach, the film shifts from live action to stop action animation. Crawling to the center of the giant fruit, James finds it inhabited by giant bugs. Terrified at first, it does not take James long to realize that Mr. Grasshopper (Simon Callow), Mr. Centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), Mrs. Ladybug (Jane Leeves), Ms. Glowworm (Miriam Margolyes), Ms. Spider (Susan Sarandon) and Mr. Earthworm (David Thewlis) were not going to eat him. Detaching the Peach from its tree, James and the bugs escape his aunts and set out in the Peach on a journey to New York City. Their journey pits them against a killer shark, a ship of skeletal ghosts and forces James to face his greatest feat: the Rhino that killed his family. More importantly than facing his fears, James is finally able to make some friends, even if they are giant bugs.
Considering this is a film where the main characters are giant bugs that befriend a young boy, I think it’s safe to say that me accusing it of being weird is spot on. While the film is very weird, it was also oddly charming and mythical. James and his companions encountered two creatures on their journey, a shark and a rhino. While these are both real animals, neither of them are what you are imagining. The shark was a giant machine, complete with missiles, gears and a mouth with a grinder in it. The rhino, which is said to have escaped from a zoo, is an almost ghostly being with the ability to fly and a body made of clouds. It was touches like this that made this film a charming adventure.
Overall I had fun watching this film. It is very bizarre and I could see some children getting scared by it (I was scared by the Rhino when I was younger) but ultimately its good, family fun. With hilarious characters that go on an epic adventure and not to mention a little bit of singing, I give James and the Giant Peach a 6 out of 10. It is one of the many great family films available on Netflix Instant Queue.