Henry Selick, animator and director, may be most remembered for directing The Nightmare Before Christmas (not Tim Burton as some people think) and the Laika debut Coraline. Yet the great man’s back catalogue is filled with interesting works on both TV and film.
One such gem is his adaptation of James and the Giant Peach from a story by children author Roald Dahl. The mixed live-action stop-motion film is an unconventional tale that stands out due to its weird characters a Selick’s beguiling directing craft.
James (Paul Terry), lives a blessed life with his loving parents by the English Sea. The family dream of visiting New York and the world’s tallest building The Empire State. When his parents are killed James must live with his cruel aunts Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margolyes). Forced to be their slave, he eventually crawls into the hole of a giant peach that has grown in their garden. Inside he meets a group of anthropomorphic bugs that befriend him. The peach rolls off its hill and into the sea that begins an adventures across the sea and hopefully to New York where James still dreams of visiting.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by author Roald Dahl, the author had not been fond of many adaptations of his work during his lifetime but the film was greenlit post his death by his window who was impressed by Selick’s vision of the story.
Like all of Dahl’s stories and also Selick’s work, James is not the most conventional narrative. The film has darker elements such as James’ parent’s death and his aunt’s treatment of him. Yet the film is weaved with wonder and a fairy-tale element as James finds a new family in a group of giant anthropomorphic bugs. Weird as it may be, the audiences will love his strange family and hope they can stay together.
The style of this film is very unique and has rarely been used in film. The first twenty minutes is live-action until James enters the peach. From then on his adventure is stop-motion animation until he reaches New York, James becomes live-action and his bugs friends remained in their animated form. The mixture and stop-motion style will remind audiences of Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. Selick’s love of Ray Harryhausen is clear in giving the film a classic look and feel.
For this film Selick assembled a varied group of actors both in person and voice talent. A young Terry leads the cast as James with wickedly good support from both Lumley and Margolyes as his aunts. The voices of his bug family are provided by Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Leeves, Susan Sarandon, and David Thewlis. All demonstrate sarcasm, humour and affection for the young hero James.
James may not be one of the most remembered films in the Disney back catalogue but it remains an enchanting tale for young and old and a testament to the brilliance of Director Henry Selick.
Happy Roald Dahl Day