Book vs. Movie: James and the Giant Peach

Posted August 10, 2020 by Amber in Bookish Things / 2 Comments

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Those of you who are regular followers here may remember that I read James and the Giant Peach earlier this year, and well… found it wanting.  Just a weird little book with bugs and creepy pictures that I didn’t super need in my life, despite growing up with the movie as a kid.

Yeah, for some reason, James and the Giant Peach the movie managed to be a nostalgia film for me – possibly because of Tim Burton’s stop-motion, which is the same thing that brought in The Nightmare Before Christmas and made that a staple, too.  While Roald Dahl’s books are widely read and loved, Tim Burton’s films get this sort of cult-ish following.  Think about it – BeetlejuiceSleepy HollowEdward ScissorhandsSweeney Todd?  They all have a specific feel to them that’s unique to Burton’s style and while there are many people who like them, one word comes up a lot to describe his films and that is “weird”.

Which, I think, makes Roald Dahl and Tim Burton a perfect match.

Excepting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  That was rough.  We’ll forget about that one.

So James and the Giant Peach.

This is definitely a stylistic film, but I think you have to great creative when it comes to giant bugs and traveling the Atlantic Ocean in an oversized bit of produce.  Like I said, Dahl/Burton are a perfect match in the strange and unusual but somehow charming… despite what feelings I have of either man (both are problematic, one more than the other).

But, you know, I think the story is interesting.  A lot of fantasy is at a grand scale with castles and dragons and big magic.  James and the Giant Peach is about wishes and small magic. It’s unique and creative and the story itself can be respected for that.

personally think that the movie does a better job with characterization and adventure than the book

Each of the bugs gets a bit of a moment. Of course, most the attention is on James, Centipede, and Miss Spider, but the others all have a moment, you know?  It’s not an easy feat to get audiences to care about the lives of bugs, especially… well… earthworms, spiders, and centipedes.  Mr. Grasshopper and Mrs. Ladybug are a bit more likable from the start.  The song “That’s the Life” helps with that, too, and since it’s close to the beginning, we get a feel for them early.

Oh yes, this movie was super Disney-fied.

What does that mean?  It means it took elements from the book and used them, but also added a whole bunch of other extra stuff to give it a family message… and sometimes it means it got turned into a musical.  Like this one. James and the Giant Peach got turned into a musical.

And while I bemoan Disney’s liberties in many things (see: A Wrinkle in Time) I think the changes to James and the Giant Peach improved the quality of the story.  Rather than just focusing on James, we got a rounded cast of characters.  Sure, there were cheesy moments, but the musical numbers broke up the travel monotony and took some of the sketchier bits of the story and managed to turn it into something a little more wholesome.  Messages of kindness and teamwork flutter through the film.

The whole bit with Centipede and the pirate ships in the Antarctic is not in the book (at least, not that I remember?) but that was a fun bit in the film and offered some redemption to an otherwise selfish character.  It was a cute little subplot arc and I support its inclusion in the film.

James and the Giant Peach retains almost all the weirdness and scenes from the book, but adds another level of oddness and magic that accentuates the story and rounds it out much better than I felt the book did.  This is one of those situations where I’d say, “Skip the book, watch the movie.”

But that’s just me.

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Do you enjoy stop-motion animation?  I think it’s really cool and I have a lot of respect for the amount of work that goes into it, but I don’t know if it’s for everyone.  Tell me what you think in the comments!

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2 responses to “Book vs. Movie: James and the Giant Peach

  1. I LOVE stop-motion animation. I think it ages well, better than other forms of animation (coughcomputercough) and it always has such atmosphere to it! A lot of adults I know don’t like it, but I work with kids and they adore it as much as I do. I wonder if kids don’t notice “creepy” things as much, or perhaps they just see the story and don’t care how it’s told as long as they’re having fun.

    • Amber

      Stop motion is DEFINITELY very atmospheric and aesthetic. It was such a good format for Tim Burton. I think that it was never super common because of the sheer amount of time it takes to create the movie, and because of that I don’t see it being used very often in the future… but I’d still like to see a stop motion picture every few years. It’s a very cool and artistic form and I agree, PERFECT for those creepier films.