Fruit Freaks Of The World Unite For This Marxist Flick.
By Stacey Richter
LET'S FACE IT, kids' movies are for kids. An hour and a half of whimsy may delight a 10-year-old to death, but her grown-up escort is bound to get a little restless. James and the Giant Peach is a case in point: This stop-motion animated version of Roald Dahl's classic children's story is well-paced, imaginative and full of exciting visual tidbits. The animation alone is so clever that it's hard not be impressed. And yet, each time the giant insects broke into song, I could feel the adults in the audience cringe, as we all thought in unison: God no, not a song.
They sing. Giant insects sing perky songs. To give some credit where it's due, the score, by Randy Newman, is far more engaging than that of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the previous film from the same production team of Tim Burton and Henry Selick. In fact, James and the Giant Peach is much more sophisticated and entertaining than Nightmare, though it's no Babe--in other words, there's not an adult-level story lurking inside the one for children.
Or is there? I happened to see James and the Giant Peach with a Marxist friend, who proposed a remarkably coherent political interpretation of the film. Surprisingly, the trajectory of the plot fits quite neatly inside Marxist theory. Yes, this story of an orphan who journeys across the ocean in the belly of a large fruit is in fact a parable of workers coming to consciousness and power.
At the beginning of the movie, James lives quite happily in a cottage with his parents. None of them are conventionally employed, and they seem to exist in an ideal pre-history when workers are at one with the product of their labor. Then, disaster strikes, in the form of a rhino, which could only represent the advent of industrialization. After the rhino (and the death of his parents), James is forced to live with his evil aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Spiker and Sponge torture and misuse the boy. He is forced to toil while they kick back and sip beverages. Obviously, James has come to represent the exploited worker who creates value that will be enjoyed by idle property owners, but never by him. Poor James! Nobody loves him.
Eventually though, James' work begins, quite literally, to bear fruit. With the help of a little magic, James makes a giant peach grow on his aunt's property. The "peach" is in fact the metaphorical representation of the surplus value created by his tireless labor. I mean, what represents overabundance better than a 20-foot peach? Immediately, his aunts, greedy capitalists that they are, claim ownership of the fuzzy behemoth and try to exploit it for big bucks. But James knows what all good Marxists know: The peach doesn't belong to the aunts simply because it grew on their property. It exists to be shared among those who made it and those who use it, which happens to be James, along with a group of grossly enlarged bugs.
James and the insects seize the fruit for themselves. Workers of the world, unite! Mr. Centipede gnaws through the stem of the peach and it rolls down a hill. It rolls--this is it--the revolution! It tumbles down the hill, crushing Spiker and Sponge, the heartless profiteers, because, after all, history is an unstoppable force. Then James and the bugs (garden pests swollen by the same steroid-magic that struck the peach) voyage across the ocean in a post-revolutionary state. Their task at this point is difficult and large: They must learn to govern themselves without falling back on the cruel hierarchical system that caused them such anguish in the first place.
The road is long. (It's not a road, actually, they're inside a peach being pulled by a flock of seagulls, but anyway). They must contend with many obstacles, including a huge, mechanized shark (representing, once again, the cruel forces of industrialization, as well as being some of the coolest animation in the movie). In the face of such troubles, do they elect one of their members to be a leader? Do they fall prey to the fascistic longings of a power-mad grasshopper? No! They work together, each according to his ability--in a collective, so to speak. They even sing a little song about it. And as a collective, they are able to achieve their goals and retain a sense of self-worth and social connectedness. At last, they chart a course for New York, where they will share the excess peachflesh with the masses. The revolution has gone international!
Is Disney actually a pinko organization? Give it some thought.
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