Meryl, Cate and Lupita: Taika Waititi assembles all-star cast for children's book reading

Liam and Chris Hemsworth joined the director to read chapters one to four of 'James and the Giant Peach' this week

Taika Waititi was joined by Chris and Liam Hemsworth, as well as Nick Kroll, for the first episode of his charitable book reading. YouTube
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It's a perennial children's favourite, but instead of the dulcet tones of mum and dad, you can now hear James and the Giant Peach read by an equally giant cast of Hollywood stalwarts.

Taika Waititi has assembled a group of actors and comedians to host a read-along of the Roald Dahl classic, all in a bid to raise funds for Covid-19 relief efforts.

The New Zealand filmmaker is bringing together names such as Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep and Ryan Reynolds for the concept, the first episode of which was released on Monday, May 18.

Thor: Ragnarok director Waititi was joined by the film's star, Chris Hemsworth, as well as his younger brother Liam Hemsworth, to read chapters one to four of the fantastical tale. Comedian and actor Nick Kroll also made an appearance, with the quartet taking on parts from the book and getting quite into character.

The reading, held over Zoom video conferencing, lasted 17 minutes, with the actors putting on a series of voices to bring the story to life.

British novelist Dahl released James and the Giant Peach in 1961, and it was adapted for the big screen in 1996.

The tale is centred around an orphaned boy named James, who lives with his two terrible aunts. After discovering a large, magical peach one day, he finds a number of characters inside who become his friends and try to help him escape his living situation.

The second episode of the read-along was also released at the same time, and features cameos from Oscar winner Streep and actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Subsequent readings will feature appearances from Lupita Nyong’o, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Billy Porter and Cara Delevingne. Tessa Thompson, Beanie Feldstein, Olivia Wilde, Cynthia Erivo, Eddie Redmayne, Kumail Nanjiani, Josh Gad, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Ruth Wilson round out the A-list cast.

"When I say I'm going to be joined by friends, I just mean celebrities," Waititi, who was nominated for Best Director at this year's Oscars for Jojo Rabbit, joked.

The series will be made of up 10 episodes, and remaining episodes will be subsequently released on YouTube on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

"Being an adult child myself and having read James and the Giant Peach to my girls multiple times, I'm excited to be able to partner with my friends, the Dahl team and Partners In Health and retell this story to help those most in need right now," Waititi said in a statement.

"This wacky, wonderful tale is about resilience in children, triumph over adversity and dealing with a sense of isolation which couldn’t been more relevant today.”

The readings are designed to raise funds for Partners In Health, a non-profit organisation founded by Dahl's daughter, Ophelia, which is currently supporting healthcare workers fighting Covid-19 in vulnerable communities.

The Roald Dahl Story Company has announced it will also match donations up to £1 million (Dh4.5m).

This is not Waititi's first dalliance with the works of Dahl; the Hunt for the Wilderpeople director is also working on creating two original series for Netflix based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.