The sight of James bravely flying his giant peach to New York is enough excitement for any little mind to absorb; and surely "Flipper" could have sustained itself with its comic scenes of an uncle who blowtorches his toast and washes dishes in the shower with his feet.
"James and the Giant Peach" and "Flipper" are both scarred by cruelty. Even if Bruno Bettelheim is right in saying that children need permission to be angry without feeling guilty, why do stories have to move beyond good and evil to the macabre? Does the very nasty culture we live in demand a mean twist to every entertainment?
In "Peach," designer Lane Smith creates wonderful moments in the surreal landscape of Roald Dahl's book: 100 seagulls towing the giant peach across the sky; James turning into a button-eyed puppet as he falls into the peach as it rolls across hills, through towns, and off a cliff into the sea. Helped by a crew that includes an elegant spider, a centipede, a ladybug, a grasshopper, and a glowworm, James flies his peach across the ocean and lands on the spire of the Empire State Building.
Created by a clever juxtaposition of animation and real life, this is a grand adventure, a glorious fantasy that is a visual delight; but in predictable conformity with Hollywood's dictum that movies are made not to excite but to frighten children, "Peach" self-destructs in a string of nasty images.
With the written word, the minds of children work well at imagining no more than they can handle at a given age. On film, an adult's interpretation is driven into their minds like spikes too strong to rust away. In thundering excess, James's aunts, Sponge and Spiker, are the seeds of nightmares; James's parents are eaten by a rhinoceros that reappears in the eye of a monstrous storm; the screen is alive with wielded weapons and sinister music. It's sadistic, and it's PG.
As if answering the call for "family fare," Flipper pours over us like sugar syrup. Uncle Porter (Paul Hogan) has one summer to turn nephew Sandy (Elijah Wood) from a spoiled kid into a boy who cares about something. The something, of course, is Flipper. Bettelheim's permission to be angry is granted by a brutal lout who shoots at dolphins and commits other crimes against nature. It's the drunken devil against the "Greenpeace Warrior."
The power wielded by the tall man with the monstrous boat and the deadly gun is the stuff of real fear. But that's not enough: one in the grim group on the fantail of our villain's vessel snarls and rips the hook and mouth right out of the fish he has just caught. This gratuitous cruelty is also rated PG.
After using villains to create the essential tension, couldn't the producers have settled for adventure? The sight of James bravely flying his giant peach to New York is enough excitement for any little mind to absorb; and surely "Flipper" could have sustained itself with its comic scenes of an uncle who blowtorches his toast and washes dishes in the shower with his feet. What does the drive to create terror say about filmmakers and the society that welcomes it?
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : Walt Disney Pictures
Rating : PG/PG
Running Time: 1h20m / 1h45m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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