Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Leeves, Joanna Lumley, Miriam Margolyes, Pete Postlethwaite, Susan Sarandon, Paul Terry
Roald Dahl (book), Karey Kirkpatrick, Jonathan Roberts, Steve Bloom
Adventures this big don't grow on trees.
In an all-new digitally restored special edition from Tim Burton, the acclaimed director of Alice In Wonderland, comes the astounding film that captured the hearts of fans and critics all across the world. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, Burton, Denise Di Novi and director Henry Selick combine a fascinating mix of live-action, stop-motion animation and computer-generated special effects to create a world beyond your imagination in this new Special Edition DVD.
After the daring rescue of a spider, a young boy named James finds gains possession of some magic crocodile tongues. When James spills them in the garden, out sprouts an enormous peach! Climbing inside, he meets an astonishing cast of characters and embarks on a magical odyssey full of thrills and adventure. Voiced by an all-star cast, including legendary actors Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon, Simon Callow and Jane Leeves, and featuring the celebrated music of Randy Newman, this classic story is delicious entertainment for the whole family!
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 80 min.
Release Date: 8/3/2010
• “Spike the Aunts” Game
• Production Featurette
• Music Video
• Still Frame Gallery
• Sneak Peeks
• DVD Version of the Film
PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
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James And The Giant Peach [Blu-Ray] (1996)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 2, 2010)
Pity poor James Henry Trotter. The little fellow has spent his life overshadowed by his better-known big brothers, and if we don't help him soon, he's likely to develop a serious inferiority complex.
As a novel, James and the Giant Peach certainly found a substantial audience, but it seems doomed to always be regarded as that "other" book from Roald Dahl. The story in question - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which appeared in movie form as 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - has long maintained its status
as a children's classic, whereas James is simply popular.
The movie of James also gets overshadowed by a less obvious property: 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Both films use stop-motion animation, and they also were directed by Henry Selick. Although Nightmare wasn't a huge hit, it definitely achieved much greater success than James, which quickly entered and departed the theatrical scene and which also didn't do much business on video, even though it had the marketing might of Disney behind it.
Ignored and overshadowed though it may be, James is actually a pretty solid little film. It can be somewhat off-putting, however, as the story fluctuates between fantasy and reality with little indication in which world we reside. Part of me feels like James is supposed to be a Wizard of Oz-style dream. After all, when James goes into the more fantastic parts of his adventure, we see a slew of characters he encountered through more natural means, such as the spider he rescued from his aunts.
However, I never saw any real indication that any parts of James were intended as sheer imagination on the part of the protagonist. Maybe I'm just dense, but I got the impression we were supposed to accept this bizarre world and all of its strange magic as a whole and not question any of the oddness, just as we did the same in Willy Wonka. The latter was more clearly grounded in reality, though; most of the movie stuck to a moderately realistic planet.
James, on the other hand, combines cartoony but still frightful examples of child abuse with complete fantasy. Perhaps improbably, the film usually makes this mix work, though the early scenes seem uninteresting for the most part. James starts with live-action photography and switches to stop-motion animation part of the way through the film; the transition is handled marvelously as we see James turn into an animated character before our eyes.
While the live-action segments are clearly necessary to set up the rest of the film, that doesn't make them enjoyable, and the gruesome nature of James' nasty aunts Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) makes these scenes even less palatable. Once James becomes an animated kid and begins to interact with the anthromorphized insects, the movie becomes much more pleasurable and delightful.
Much of the credit for the success of these segments goes to the animators, of course, as James provides consistently excellent examples of the art form. I've always been amazed at the work done by stop-motion animators; it seems like such a difficult and patience-taxing technique that I don't know how anyone can stand to do it! I'm happy they persevere, however, as the results are truly magical at times. I love all forms of animation and think each of them has its merits, but there's something special about stop-motion that makes it appear especially exciting and wonderful to me.
We also encounter some consistently fine voice work in James. The film boasts a quite notable cast, with Academy Award winners Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss in the mix, plus Jane Leeves, Simon Callow, David Thewlis, and Margolyes (again). Each adds a distinctive tone to their characters and makes the movie more special. I was especially partial to Dreyfuss' interpretation of the New York streetwise centipede; he creates a character that stands out nicely amongst the others and becomes genuinely witty and endearing.
I must admit I feel a little less enthusiastic about Paul Terry's performance as James. He handles the live-action shots and also does the voice during the animation, and he lacks much polish or realistic style. A lot of his work appeared forced and awkward and he couldn't provide much depth for the role.
However, I generally felt positively about Terry just because he created a nicely exuberant tone for James. What he lacks in polish he makes up for through his innocent earnestness. Terry isn't a clear winner as James, but he does more right than wrong.
My only major quibble with James relates to the film's music. Over the last 15 years, Randy Newman has proved himself to be a movie composer. However, this flick's songs are rather drab and lifeless, and they seem surprisingly basic and simple. These feel like the work of a clueless hack, not someone as accomplished as Newman. There's some charm in the simplicity, but I still think they seem like tunes that were dashed off in a real hurry; if "My Name Is James" took Newman more than ten minutes to write, I'll eat a bug.
Ultimately, James and the Giant Peach isn't a classic animated film. It's not as good as close-cousin The Nightmare Before Christmas, but it seems endearing and entertaining nonetheless. The movie benefits from fine stop-motion animation, a clever and intriguing story, and some solid voice acting. Fans of animated movies will definitely want to take a look at James.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus C-
James and the Giant Peach appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie presented a challenging image but the Blu-ray transferred it well.
Sharpness appeared strong, as I noticed no soft or fuzzy sequences. Unsurprisingly, the stop-motion segments provided the greatest definition, since they can be photographed more precisely, but none of the live-action sequences appeared vague or hazy either. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and edge haloes remained absent.
Print flaws weren’t a concern, but the movie could look rather grainy. I didn’t think this was a problem, though, as the grain clearly stemmed from the original photography. Besides, I’ve seen the damage done by transfers with excessive noise reduction – hello, Predator! - so I was pleased that the folks behind this disc left well enough alone.
The movie's palette varied depending on the locale. During the live-action shots, the images remained bland and gray, with very few instances of colors, but the situation became brighter and cheerier in the stop-motion scenes. On those occasions, we witnessed a lovely array of hues that seemed accurate and rich. From the bold orange of the peach to the solid blue of the sea, the hues were reproduced with clarity and depth. In the movie's final sequence, I noticed some haziness to red lighting that illuminated live-action James, but this was not a major concern, and it was the only problem of any sort I attached to the film's colors.
Black levels appeared solid. Dark tones were thick and deep, and shadows were generally positive. A few low-light shots came across as a little dense, but not to a significant degree. Overall, the presentation seemed quite satisfying.
As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it worked nicely. The soundfield seemed broad and engaging, and it provided especially lively usage of the forward channels. These speakers offered a lot of action and placed the audio precisely within the spectrum, with some well-localized distribution of speech. The surrounds contributed some strong effects on occasion and could add a nice punch to the picture when appropriate.
Audio quality seemed good. Dialogue appeared consistently natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. The speech also blended well with the action and didn't stand out as dubbed. Although Randy Newman's songs weren't very good, they sounded fine, with fairly distinct highs and adequately rich lows. Effects were generally crisp and clear, and they also displayed positive bass. No concerns emerged in this highly satisfying soundtrack.
How did the picture and sound of the Blu-ray compare to those of the original DVD? Both showed improvements. The audio came across as more involving and dynamic, with clearer tones across the board.
Visuals also demonstrated a good step up in quality. The DVD looked nice, but the Blu-ray was more precise and offered more vibrant colors. Unfortunately, it also made the grain more obvious, but I didn’t mind that, as the presentation accurately replicated the source material. The Blu-ray gave us a strong upgrade over the DVD.
Most of the extras come straight from the old DVD. A Production Featurette that runs a whopping four minutes, 34 seconds. As one would expect from such a modest piece, this program is quite superficial and offers no depth or detail. However, it packs in some decent information during its brief running time and I found it to provide a moderately entertaining experience.
Next we find a music video for Randy Newman's performance of "Good News". This two-minute, 28-second clip intermixes film snippets with shots of Newman as he sings the song in the recording studio. We also see a few seconds of production footage at the very start of the video, but none of this can be found later in the clip. Does this video sound dull? There's a reason for that: it is.
In the Still Frame Gallery, we get 72 images that are grouped into four different areas. These cover "Puppets" (9), "Concept Art" (9), "Behind the Scenes" (36) and "Live Action" (18). We see the design drawings for the characters, plus the stop-motion puppets themselves plus shots from both the live-action and stop-motion sets. The pictures are generally compelling and deserve a look.
Under “Games and Activities”, a new feature appears: the Spike the Aunts Game. Within a 30-second period, you activate a rhino to poke the evil aunts with its horn. The more you hit them, the faster they spin and the more challenging the game becomes. If it offered any actual fun, I’d care, but it’s a weird, forgettable affair.
In addition to the trailer for James, we get some Sneak Peeks. We discover ads for Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, Beauty and the Beast, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, DisneyNature: Oceans, Alice in Wonderland (1951), A Christmas Carol, The Lion King and Tangled.
Finally, the package includes a DVD Version of James. This offers a full-frills disc that would appear to be the same one that will be available on its own. It’s a nice bonus.
James and the Giant Peach remains a minor piece of Disney animation, and I prefer big brother The Nightmare Before Christmas, but James certainly offers its fair share of charm and entertainment. The Blu-ray provides strong picture and sound plus a few passably interesting extras. James and the Giant Peach would make a nice addition to the collections of fans of Disney animation, and the Blu-ray becomes a definite upgrade over the prior DVD.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8333 Stars
| Number of Votes: 6