James and the Giant Peach
James and the Giant Peach, based on the 1961 Roald Dahl book of the same name, is a fairy tale beyond all fairy tales. Live action and stop-motion animation bring a little boy, a giant peach and a talkative cast of human sized insects to the silver screen.
An idyllic opening (James is loved, cared for and pampered by his two adoring parents) rips asunder as the narrator announces, in a somber deadpan, that a rhinoceros (materializing out of a cloud) eats the parents in "35 seconds flat." Poor James falls victim to the cruel custody, evil whims and crass manners of his two decidedly un-adoring aunts. Aunts Spiker and Sponge work, starve and manhandle the boy until that fateful day when a mysterious old man presents him with a bag full of glowing crocodile tongues. The tongues have been "brewed in the skull of a dead witch" and will "make all his dreams come true" if he but swallows them whole. Alas, the over-excited-9-year-old James stumbles on the roots of a barren peach tree and spills his "precious" package on the ground. Viola, a giant peach is grown.
Wondrous images of a mammoth peach floating serenely in an endless ocean of blue. Friendly bickering between an endearingly cocksure centipede and a lovably insecure and morose earthworm. Violin operettas from a gentlemanly grasshopper. A fantastic feast of peach-a-la-everything. The fantastically wonderful does inevitably intertwine with the fantastically horrific: an attack by a smoke-belching steel-toothed mechanical shark. An underwater battle with Skellington (a character from Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas) and his gang of skeletal pirates. (This sequence may be disturbing for young children.) A showdown between James and the "cloud rhinoceros." An untimely, unwanted reunion with the two evil aunts.
Young James does faces his greatest fear when the rhinoceros that killed his parents attacks him. He stands firm and defeats the beast with the steadfastness and unwavering courage that only a child can maintain. After reaching his dreamed of destination, James' confrontation with his two awful aunts tests his fortitude—he prevails.
Happily ever after is assumed, yet James has no parents or family of any kind. He has his insect pals and a host of children to play with.
James and the Giant Peach is well-crafted, and aside from a single use of the word "a--" and a couple of short "scary" sequences, James is ripe entertainment and provides succulent lessons in courage, loneliness, friendship, loss, tenacity and the struggle to make dreams come true.