James and the Giant Peach (PG)
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This is based on a book by Roald Dahl, which I haven't read. It came out in 1996, and I'm sure I must have seen it on TV at some point, in either the 1990s or the early 2000s. I watched it again in 2023 to write a review, by which time I didn't remember any details about the movie, but I did remember not being particularly impressed by it the first time I saw it. And my estimation didn't really increase, this time. There were some bits I did like, and of course it was directed by Henry Selick, whose work I enjoyed as director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. But in this movie, I didn't find anything about it, from the story to the songs to the characters, particularly memorable or entertaining. Look, I didn't dislike it, and it's definitely too good to rate it "meh". But I doubt I'd ever feel the need to watch it a third time.
It's set in 1948, according to the internet, though I never noticed a specific year mentioned in the movie... but 1948 certainly sounds about right. It has a storybook feel to it, which is appropriate. And it starts out in live-action, but most of the movie is stop-motion. There's a young boy named James Henry Trotter, living a happy life with his mother and father, until they're supposedly killed by a rhinoceros. Then he goes to live with his horrid aunts, Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes), who seem even worse than Cinderella's stepfamily. One day, he rescues a spider from being killed by his aunts, and later meets a mysterious man who returns a paper lantern to James, which is now filled with tiny magical things. But the things all escape, and one of them causes a giant peach to grow on an otherwise barren tree. The aunts turn it into an attraction for spectators, and at night send James out to clean up after everyone. He eats a bit of the peach, unwittingly ingesting one of the magical things, and subsequently crawls inside the peach, turning into stop-motion as he does so.
Inside the peach, he meets some stop-motion characters: a spider (voiced by Susan Sarandon), a grasshopper, a centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), a ladybug (Jane Leeves), an earthworm (David Thewlis), and a glowworm (Margolyes, though the glowworm is of far less importance than any of the other animated characters). The centipede eats away at the stem of the peach to make it roll away from the tree, to get away from Spiker and Sponge. The peach rolls into the Atlantic ocean, and James and his new friends have to find a way to get to New York City, where he had been planning on going with his parents before they died. I don't want to spoil any details of the trip, but I will say once they finally reach their destination, James becomes live-action again. Well, okay, I'll mention one thing: at one point they have to fight pirate skeletons to obtain a compass, and the captain, whom centipede referred to as a "skellington", reminded me very much of Jack Skellington from "The Nightmare Before Christmas", so that was cool.
Anyway, it's definitely not a bad movie. It has all the whimsy and weirdness you could ask for. And I didn't dislike James or any of his new friends. They were all okay characters, each in their own unique way. So I wish I could like the movie more than I did. I just don't find it nearly as magical as Selick's other films.