James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Henry Selick
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 79 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: August 3, 2010
Review Date: July 29, 2010
The same producer-director team (Tim Burton-Henry Selick) that brought the offbeat The Nightmare Before Christmas to the big screen succeeds once again in bringing oddball entertainments to a mainstream audience with James and the Giant Peach. Whimsical, endearing, and thoroughly imaginative in its application of mixed media to bring this incredible tale to life, James and the Giant Peach is more ambitious than the earlier The Nightmare Before Christmas and just as entertaining. Both have grown into family favorites over the years after less than enthusiastic initial releases, and James may indeed be the superior production.
Orphaned at a young age, James (Paul Terry) is mistreated horribly by two loathsome, demanding aunts, Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes). Given one thousand magical crocodile teeth which can make dreams come true, James manages to trip and lose all but one, and this one allows him to take part in a series of fabulous adventures inside a giant peach which had been growing on his aunts’ tree but which breaks loose and allows James to escape their control by his hiding inside. There he meets some brand new friends: Grasshopper (Simon Callow), Centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), Ladybug (Jane Leeves), Glowworm (Miriam Margolyes), Earthworm (David Thewlis), and Spider (whom he had previously saved from the wrath of his hateful aunts) (Susan Sarandon). James and his pals are eager to make their way across the Atlantic to New York City which holds the promise of freedom and contentment for all of them, but it’s a treacherous path they’ve set for themselves, and there’s no clear assurance they can make it there alive.
As was the case with The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach is a musical, this time with songs furnished by Randy Newman (the melodies instantly recognizable as his work). The tunes run the gamut from wistful, longing ballads like “My Name Is James” to big production numbers like “That’s the Life” and “Eating the Peach” and the touching “Family,” the film’s inevitable theme. James’ longing for a loving family connection is what separates this film from Selick’s previous The Nightmare Before Christmas. Both films are colorful and tuneful, but the sense of longing and need is much more palpable here, and the payoff is much bigger and more immediate for the viewer.
The screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick, Jonathan Roberts, and Steve Bloom (based on the novel by Roald Dahl) is filled with witty word play and sophisticated characters which adults can appreciate while the tykes revel in the undersea adventure segment or the shark submarine attack. But the stop motion animation is simply breathtaking, even in something as simple as the characters rolling around while the peach tumbles down the hill. The effort that must have gone into this sequence is mind blowing, and the mixture of traditional line animation, computer generated effects, and the stop motion central animation is pretty seamless and very impressive. The film is bookended by live action segments featuring James and his horrendous aunts, and Selick has made those sequences seem storybook like with minimal sets and exaggerated and skewed perspectives on objects and the make-up on the witchy aunts. It all comes together in a fantasy novel brought to the screen with a unique viewpoint which sets it apart from other musical fairy tales (The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to name two).
Paul Terry succeeds masterfully in convincing the viewer that he means every word he’s speaking while the voice work by the central six “bugs” is delightfully droll and spry. Susan Sarandon earns special props for her reserved but dignified spider, and Richard Dreyfuss is hilarious as the Brooklyn-accented Centipede. Both Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margolyes create caricatures of pure, selfish evil that would give Cruelle De Vil a run for her money. Pete Postlethwaite has an effective moment or two as the magical man with the crocodile tongues.
The film is presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The live action bookends don’t quite have the sharpness and depth of the rest of the piece (the sequence with James and his parents watching cloud formations is obviously processed to look vintage), but the animated central section of the movie is exemplary in color saturation, sharpness, and detail (you can see fuzz on that peach in many shots). Black levels are outstanding and add great depth to many scenes in the movie. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix may sound just a tad disappointing at the beginning of the film with only average fidelity and unremarkable immersion. Patience will bring forth its reward, however, as the sound mix evolves into a smashing soundfield of dynamic proportions. You’ll be thrilled with the depth and extension of bass in the LFE channel throughout the movie, and the dialogue and singing placed in the center channel is nicely recorded and rendered. The sprightly music score gets exceptional spread through the soundstage in this wonderful lossless encode.
“Spike the Aunts” interactive game is a Blu-ray exclusive. The player gets a chance to boot the two hateful aunts and accumulate points while doing so.
A production featurette on the making of the film only does a cursory job in showing the intensive labor needed to bring a film such as this to life. The EPK vignette features a few words from the director and a couple of the stars, but the 4 ½ minutes of running time simply doesn’t do the film justice. It’s presented in 480i.
“Good News” music video is performed by Randy Newman, its composer, the song which is played over the closing credits. It’s in 1080p and runs for 2 ½ minutes.
There are four still frame galleries which cover the concept art, the stop motion puppet characters, behind the scenes shots of the cast and crew at work, and stills from the live action scenes in the movie. The pictures are interesting, but they’re considerably smaller than they should have been for easy detailed viewing.
The original theatrical trailer runs for 1 ½ minutes and is in 480i.
The disc is BD-Live ready, but the portal had not been activated during the review period.
The Blu-ray disc contains 1080p trailers for Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, Rapunzel, Beauty & the Beast, Prince of Persia, Oceans, the 1951 animated version of Alice in Wonderland, A Christmas Carol, and The Lion King.
The second disc in the set is the DVD version of the movie.
4/5 (not an average)
Superbly imaginative and tuneful¸ James and the Giant Peach comes to Blu-ray in an excellent video and audio encode, but the studio has not shown the movie the respect it deserves by furnishing it with a worthwhile set of bonus features exploring the work behind the magic of the film. Nevertheless, it gets a firm recommendation.