When his parents are killed by a rhinocerus, young James is packed off to live with his wicked aunts. A magic potion enables a giant peach tot grow in the garden, and the boy ventures inside. There he meets a selection of insect and animal friends, and escapes inside the giant peach on a journey to New York.
On paper it looks like the perfect warped marriage - Roald Dahl's darkly funny story of an orphaned boy escaping the random cruelties of his wicked aunts neatly teamed with the cartoon-Gothic visual imagination of team Burton (executive producer Tim Burton, director Selick) and FX designer Pete Kozachik - collaborators on the triumphantly subversive The Nightmare Before Christmas.
For those impoverished enough to be unfamiliar with one of the finest children's stories ever penned, James (Paul Terry) is a happy kid with two perfect parents, a perfect life and the promise of an upcoming trip to New York. Until, in a brilliantly capricious spanner-in-the-works moment, his folks are unexpectedly devoured by a giant rhinoceros and he's shipped off to live with his two pantomimic evil aunts - in this case the gruesomely toothsome duo of Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley - who discharge their new-found parental duties by working the grieving lad almost to death, feeding him rotting fish heads and generally mucking about. All until, via some magical malarkey courtesy of Pete Postlethwaite, a mysterious giant peach puts in an appearance. James crawls inside, is accosted by a bevy of eccentric insects, and embarks on an airborne adventure as the big peach wings its way by seagull power towards the Big Apple. Seamlessly blending live action, stop-motion animation and state-of-the-art digital jiggery-pokery, Selick delivers a visually splendid movie, with the opening live action sequence's stylised storybook sets almost rivalling The Wizard Of Oz. Animation's post- Toy Story hipness has attracted an eclectic range of vocal talents, with Callow's aristocratic grasshopper bagging all the best lines, Susan Sarandon as a Garboesque spider, and David Thewlis putting his Manc nasality to good use as the misery-prone earthworm.
With only a couple of Randy Newman's musical numbers diving tragically across the schmaltz barrier and an irritating reference to the insect characters as "bugs" to sour the experience, James will deliver enough gasps of pleasure, shrieks of terror and, no doubt, the odd damp seat. Just, as they say, peachy.
The vocal cast are great fun, and the animation is smooth and vibrant. Except for a few treacly songs, this is great entertainment for all.