Disney has been fast-peddling remakes lately. Thankfully, though, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and this month’s Pete’s Dragon were all commendable on their own terms, celebrating the legacy of the original while incorporating enough of their own personality to make the new moviegoing experience worthwhile. That’s hopefully the mindset that guides them through their latest remake, because this one sure comes out of left field. They’re in the midst of remaking James and the Giant Peach, Harry Selick’s 1996 Roald Dahl adaptation, and they’ve roped in an unexpected talent to bring it to life. Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall) is in talks to direct the re-imagining, under a script by novelist-turned-screenwriter Nick Hornby (An Education, Brooklyn).
Development is quite early, but it does represent yet another property reinterpretation under their brand. The original wasn’t necessarily a box office smash, as it earned a paltry $28.9 million during its debut, but it has been revered in later years, celebrated for its imaginative visuals and wondrous blend of live-action and stop-motion animation. There’s no word yet on what direction Mendes plans to take the children story, but he’ll likely take the CG-route instead. Which isn’t bad necessarily, but it does take away from the charming novelty found in the original ’90s film. Hopefully, however, that gives it a chance to stand on its own, and not to get constantly overshadowed by its predecessor.
I wouldn’t necessarily consider James and the Giant Peach my favorite Selick film (that would probably go to The Nightmare Before Christmas, which should never get remade), but it’s certainly a good one. It’s hard to separate the iconic visionary brought by the animation filmmaker, and perhaps it’s in Disney’s best interest to go in a complete different direction with Mendes. Similar to David Lowery’s homey approach to Pete’s Dragon, it’s better to be its own thing than to spend the whole time justifying its existence, and Mendes is certainly not one to slack off. Even if Spectre (which I liked) wasn’t necessarily his brightest hour.
There’s no word yet on when this new James and the Giant Peach is expected to hit theaters, but it’ll come after a few of their other revamps, including next year’s Beauty and the Beast, Tim Burton’s Dumbo, the Emma Stone-led Cruella, a live-action Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins Returns and The Rocketeers, among several others. Hopefully, we don’t get overloaded before Mendes makes his latest, but Disney’s general output is pretty good lately, so maybe that won’t be a problem. Here’s hoping this one sours. It is worth noting, however, that their last Dahl adaptation, Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, didn’t necessarily take the box office by storm over the summer. But that’s rather unfortunate, because it’s actually pretty darn good.