review for James and the Giant Peach on AllMovie

James and the Giant Peach (1996)
by Derek Armstrong review

While The Nightmare Before Christmas was already considered too dark and unconventional by some audiences, James and the Giant Peach reaches further levels of obscurity and sunlessness, conditions that are somewhat redeemed by cutting-edge visuals. With Tim Burton once again providing a watchful eye as producer, the film continues Nightmare's use of his trademark visual style, which grafts quite well onto complex stop-motion animation. But some of Burton's live-action films are too skewed for his adult audiences, so this children's movie, directed by Henry Selick as an interpretation of Burton's mind, will be lost on them, so far flung are the elements of Roald Dahl's book and their twisted onscreen realization. A telling sign is that it's rated PG rather than G. Nothing really shocking or gruesome happens, but the world depicted is ever so slightly grotesque, such that the characters never achieve the familiarity that makes them marketable to children as toys. Not that merchandising should necessarily be its goal, but it should at least aim for a spot in children's memories outside of trippy fragments that come to them in dreams. The plot of Dahl's fairy tale seems to result from throwing together random events and objects, almost a Mad Libs approach to narrative. There's no doubt the visions of Dahl, Selick, and Burton come together with grand visual style and exhausting technical achievement, but what's missing is the coherence that might make them magical.