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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in this adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic story, James and the Giant Peach, young James both loses his parents and is forced to live as a servant to abusive relatives. James risks his life in a trip across the ocean, and there's one particularly scary encounter with a toothy shark. The movie may inspire kids to build little hot air balloons with candles, as James does, and it may encourage bug-phobic kids to become even more enamored of their insect friends. It offers positive messages about friendship, acceptance, and facing your fears and has a strong role model in James, who's courageous in the face of difficulty.
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What's the story?
In JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, James (Paul Terry) has an idyllic life with parents who imagine taking him to New York City -- until they're killed by a charging rhino coming out of a cloud. James suddenly finds himself bunking in the attic of his aunts' home. He's a servant in their home, and the two women threaten that the rhino that killed his parents will return for him if he disobeys them. They also threaten to beat him regularly. James obtains some magical crocodile tongues spiced with "the fingers of a young monkey, the gizzard of a pig, the beak of a parrot and three spoonfuls of sugar" spills them on the roots of a petrified peach tree. Soon, the tree grows a giant peach, and James discovers inside it six insects that become his family.
Is it any good?
The heart of this story is in James, with whom kids who are struggling to find independence and security within their families will identify. The insect characters are mostly loveable, and also learn lessons along the way. However, the insects also seem to come straight from central casting. There's the baffoonish Brooklyn centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), the elderly, hard-of-hearing lightning bug, the femme fatale spider (Susan Sarandon), the gentlemanly grasshopper, the twittering, lady-like lady bug, and the scaredy-cat earthworm. The Spider and centipede flirt with each other, but kids will take it as simple entertainment.
The only drawbacks in James and the Giant Peach are musical numbers that seem to only pad the short film's running time (the first is the worst, though later songs will have kids wiggling right along with the dancing characters), and animation that's unlikely to impress kids raised on Toy Story. When even Spider-Man has more realistic computer-generated graphics, kids may roll their eyes at clumsy animation scenes. One scene, in which young James has a nightmare about his aunts coming after him, resembles nothing so much as Monty Python animation on acid. James's head on a cardboard cutout of an insect? Uh, okay. But was it really necessary to throw in yet another form of animation?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about parents or family members who have left a child's life through death or divorce, and how James and the Giant Peach makes them feel.
How do we remember the ones we've lost? How does James find a family of friends that provide for him the love he doesn't get from his aunts?
What role does imagination play in James's story? How did imagination make him feel better? How do you use your imagination?
- In theaters: January 1, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: August 28, 2001
- Cast: David Thewlis, Richard Dreyfuss, Susan Sarandon
- Director: Henry Selick
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters
- Character strengths: Curiosity, Empathy, Teamwork
- Run time: 79 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic intensity
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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