Problem #1: Kill 'Em Dead
In the book, kickin' it Dahl style, James' awful aunts, Sponge and Spiker are killed when the gigantic rolling peach flattens them into the ground. Suitably comical way to die for a children's book. In the movie, they are inside a car when the peach rolls over them and they appear in the ending. I was happy that the movie didn't tone down the extent of their cruelty but why aren't they dead? Not that I personally need it to be very dark, but it is more true to Dahl's book, so why not just kill them off? At the end of the movie, the aunts come after him in New York to exert their power over him and all the people/insects end up capturing the aunts, tying them up, and unmentioned wigs fall off their heads. I suppose the filmmakers wanted the primary villains to run throughout the film.
James and his friends are on a magical adventure in the book and New York is a surprise destination--they don't know where they are until they get there. I've thought about this one for a while and I don't see why the filmmakers had to run the whole dream of New York through the movie. In the beginning of the film, as in the book, James and his parents are living an idyllic life. There is a similar scene where James is shown having a day holiday at the beach with his parents. However, in the movie, they introduce an analysis of clouds, one of which looks like the Empire State Building and James' father gives him a brochure of NYC to set up his dream of going there. Then his parents get mauled by a runaway rhino, you know, as you do. (at least in a Roald Dahl book) So many of Dahl's books are about horrible people getting their comeuppance and about escaping terrible realities. (or terrible possibilities) I didn't like that the whole movie became about getting to New York. The book gives a feeling of mental escape from James' horrible guardians who mistreat him. The movie is more like a running away story.
Problem #3: If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It (OR DELETE IT!)
Claymation gives you lots of opportunities to create fantastical scenes. For example, if there is a cool scene in the book where the insects and James are attacked by a huge school of sharks, it might be cool to include that in the movie. Or not. Instead, the film features a single mechanical shark that shoots harpoons into the peach.
There are several different illustrated versions of the book so I'm not sure if I can generalize or not but in the version I was reading the insects were just that--large insects. No clothes and no crazy accents. In the movie, each bug has their own clothing and some have accents and magically, Centipede has turned into a Brooklyn-accented, cigar-smoking, Newsie from the 1930s. Go ahead and imagine what Newsies would've been like with a claymation centipede in the role Christian Bale played.* And while we are on the topic of musicals, this movie is only about an hour long and kids love songs so I see why some songs might've been necessary, however I don't remember any of them now (a few hours after watching the movie), they were not part of the book (though there were some songs that Centipede sang), and Randy Newman is involved in several of them. (personal preference alert) I might be wrong on this account, but it did not even sound like the lyrics to the songs were the ones from the book.
*Note: James and the Giant Peach has a higher rating on IMDB than Newsies does. Pssht, yeah right.
Problem #5: My Own Personal Nightmares
Another weird moment from the insects came from Spider acting very maternal to James and wrapping him in her web to go to sleep. Thanks, James and the Giant Peach, for putting a visual to an ultimate nightmare of mine. Especially when it isn't in the book.
There is also a completely bizarro dream/nightmare sequence in which James' head has been put onto a caterpillar body. I can never unsee this weirdness. Now neither can you. It isn't in the book, by the way. Nor are the birds who are carrying the weight of the peach shown to be overexerting themselves. Yes, I know that they are just claymation birds and that it isn't real, but I got a little bit sad when I saw the birds covered in ice, barely able to flap their wings, especially because it was added just for the film. I remember a discussion I had a few months ago wherein I talked with someone about how desensitized we are to human violence but how cruelty to animals affects many of us while reading books and watching movies. I can read about serial killers, even real ones, and feel disgusted and scared, but the moment someone tortures an animal, I am outraged. I suppose it is the element of helplessness. Anyway, I don't think I needed to see the frozen birds.