James and the Giant Peach - * * *

An imaginative combination of animation styles makes this unique film a visual treat. James is a young orphan (his parents were killed from above by a supernatural rhino), forced to live with his cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge (Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margoyles). He makes his escape with the help of a mysterious stranger (Pete Postlethwaite) who give him a bag of magical Crocodile tongues. The tongues magically enlarge a nearby peach, and six bugs, who now live inside. James himself, with the aid of a crocodile tongue, becomes an animated puppet inside the peach, and when the peach lands in the ocean, James and his insect friends begin a voyage to a new life in New York City. His compatriots in the oversized fruit include a wisecracking centipede from Brooklyn (Richard Dreyfuss), a sexy Russian spider (Susan Sarandon), a woefull blind worm (David Thewliss), a cultured grasshopper (Simon Callow) a prim ladybug (Jane Leeves), and a matronly glowworm (Miriam Margoyles). Director Henry Selick combines a heavily stylized live action intro and epilogue, with a stop-motion middle (ala Nightmare Before Christmas), with touches of traditional cel animation, computer generated animation and some crude 2-d stop motion animation reminicent of some Monty Python skits, or Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions. Although each style is well done in itself, most of the transitions are jarring, and it leads one to wonder why the makers didn’t just pick one approach and stick with it. Anyway, with those flaws aside, the film is delightfully entertaining, adeptly mixing humor and adventure. Not quite as visually striking as The Nightmare Before Christmas, the film manages a more coherent storyline. Randy Newman’s songs and music fit the moment, but aren’t really memorable. A lighthearted escapist treat.

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