Making the Grades
Based on a book by Roald Dahl, James (Paul Terry) is a young orphan left in the care of some self-centered and verbally abusive aunts. Reminiscent of the Cinderella story, the boy is forced to clean and fetch for the two ugly sisters named Spike and Sponge (Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margolyes).
Then a chance to pursue the dreams he previously shared with his parents presents itself. A stranger (Pete Postlethwaite in the role of fairy godfather) offers James a bag full of magical crocodile tongues. Unfortunately, most of them escape, sharing their charm with a peach tree and various insects. But at least one affects the sad lad who suddenly morphs from his live-action world into one comprised of stop-frame animation characters.
Taking refuge inside a giant fruit produced by the barren tree, James meets the others touched by the enchantment. They include a staunch Grasshopper (voice of Simon Callow), a cigar smoking Centipede (voice of Richard Dreyfuss), a proper-mannered Ladybug (voice of Jane Leeves), a blind Earthworm (voice of David Thewlis), a dimwitted Glowworm (voice of Miriam Margolyes) and a sophisticated French Spider (voice of Susan Sarandon).
Teaming up, the group decides to look for a friendlier home in New York City. After a few musical numbers and some suggestions from James, the gang lassos a flock of seagulls and is soon flying across the Atlantic using the enormous peach for both food and home. However the journey is not without peril, such as a mechanical shark that rises out of the ocean and threatens to eat them. They also drift off course until they are hovering over the frozen waters of the Arctic. When James and his friends try to solve their navigation problem by salvaging a compass off a sunken ship, they encounter undersea monsters and living skeletons that attempt to drown them. And even when it looks like James may have finally attained his goal, he is still haunted by the past.
While the script does present opportunities for the characters to grow, help one another and assert their independence (similar to the plot portrayed in The Wizard of Oz), the visual effects are likely to negate many of these positive messages. Eerie looking sets, creepy bugs, a terrifying rhino that thunders out of the sky, ghoulish creatures and the sinister sisters make this a frightening voyage—especially for the movie’s intended young audience.
Fans of Roald Dahl’s oft off-kilter tales and Producer Tim Burton’s macabre style (as seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride) may appreciate the artistry of this live-action/animation mix. But parents who want some good shuteye will likely not want to take this nightmare-inducing road trip with their little tykes until they are a lot older.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about James and the Giant Peach.
How does the story allow James to take control of his life instead of continuing to be a victim of his aunts’ cruelty? What other nightmares from his past surface as he makes his journey? What former experiences does he use to help solve present problems and council his friends?
What sets, colors, music and images do the moviemakers use to create the creepy feel of this film? Do you think you could tell this tale any other way?