The BFG. 2016
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance, Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement, Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall
Sophie, a young orphan, encounters the Big Friendly Giant who takes her to his magical homeland. But as the duo bond, Sophie’s life – and the fate of other children – come under threat from larger, carnivorous giants.
Although Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl are both great purveyors of children’s adventure stories, their pairing doesn’t feel like a natural fit in The BFG.
Where Dahl has a wicked sense of humour and darkness, Spielberg has sentimentality and heroism. The combination makes for a sweet, but rather bland, adaptation of the beloved 1982 book.
Ruby Barnhill – in her big screen debut – plays the orphan girl Sophie. She’s intelligent and precocious, much to the annoyance of the home’s stern mistress. One night Sophie spots a large cloaked figure hiding in the streets below. Realising his cover has been blown, the mysterious creature bounds to the window, plucks Sophie and takes huge leaps across Britain to a secluded island.
When Sophie is released, she finds herself in the care of Big Friendly Giant, a.k.a BFG, in Giant Country. He explains, in his gobbledegook language, that he’s a harmless, vegetarian giant who blows bottled dreams into the bedrooms of children. Also, despite his build, BFG is actually the runt of his species and keeps separate from the larger, bloodthirsty ogres.
As Sophie and BFG become best friends, the giant’s meaner counterparts continue to bully him and ramp up their abduction of children for their diet of “human beans”. This turn of events encourages Sophie to travel back to London with BFG, in a bid to persuade Buckingham Palace to fight the horrible savages.
While The BFG starts with some excitement and ends with humour (Penelope Wilton’s Queen is a delight), the bulk of the film is too cutesy and gentle to be captivating. Surprisingly Spielberg and late writer Melissa Mathison (who penned E.T.) fail to fully convey the magic of Dahl’s text. The end result is a mild, age-13-and-under appropriate production.
Spielberg’s blend of live action and animation does create a few fun visual flourishes. For instance the colour green features prominently, whether it’s the rolling hills of giant country, slimy snozzcumbers or gravity-defying ‘whizzpopping’ farts. However, the fancy effects won’t stop many Dahl fans from longing for Quentin Blake’s iconic illustrations.
What gives The BFG heart is Mark Rylance’s lovely performance. The Oscar and BAFTA winner overcomes his character’s glossy CGI sheen to portray genuine kindness and knobbly charm. It’s just a shame Bill Hader and Jemaine Clement weren’t allowed to showcase their brilliant talents as well.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★