From Raiders of the Lost Ark, to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, to Jurassic Park, director Steven Spielberg has given us some of the most imaginative pictures of all time. Author Roald Dahl has provided source material for numerous great family films, including Matilda, The Witches, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and of course Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Even to this day, Walt Disney Studios continues to produce one instant classic after another. Since Spielberg, Dahl, and Disney seem like such a natural fit, it’s surprising that all three of them haven’t come together already. The BFG delivers pretty much what one would expect from this trio of creative juggernauts, though.
Based on Dahl’s beloved 1982 children’s book, Spielberg’s big screen adaptation is whimsical, visual stunning, and often magical. However, it’s never quite larger than life. Given the talent involved, one would expect The BFG to be nothing short of a masterpiece. One can’t help but be a little disappointed that the film doesn’t reach gigantic heights. However, this is still a delightful family picture that’s sure to appease kids and anyone who grew up reading the novel.
Ruby Barnhill makes a strong debut as an orphaned girl named Sophie. One night, Sophie spots a massive figure outside her window that turns out to be a giant played by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance. He takes Sophie back to his home in Giant Country and identifies himself as the Big Friendly Giant. As his name suggests, the BFG is 20 feet tall, but wouldn’t harm a fly. The same can’t be said about the BFG’s fellow giants, who are portrayed by Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader, and Eddie Redmayne, just to name a few. Realizing that these brutish beasts have been eating children, Sophie devises a plan that involves the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton), the army, and her very big friend.
Barnhill and Rylance share an undeniable rapport that’s impossible to resist. Much like Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book, Barnhill is given the difficult task of acting against a primarily computer-generated cast. The young actress has a wonderful presence, though, and truly makes the audience believe these CGI creatures are present. Likewise, Rylance’s motion capture performance is also highly emotive and absorbing. He embodies all of the BFG’s naivety, sincerity, and warmth, turning him into something much more than a special effect. With that said, the effects here are incredibly inventive. Some of the best scenes in the film involve the BFG stomping through the streets of London, finding all sorts of clever ways to blend in.
While the movie is wall to wall with large set pieces, The BFG never feels like hollow eye candy or a mindless extravaganza. Spielberg packs the film with numerous quiet, subtle moments, treating even the youngest audience members like sophisticated individuals. The highlight of the picture is a trip to a realm called Dream Country. Bursting with bright colors, rich atmosphere, and astounding visuals, the sequence can only be described as enchanting.
Although The BFG is an immensely charming film, it admittedly isn’t without its drawbacks. A few scenes maybe drag on a bit too long and some of the comedic bits fall flat. I might just be a snob, but farting giants simply don’t do it for me. The ending in particular feels anticlimactic and leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, Spielberg and Disney ultimately do justice to Dahl’s work with this faithful adaptation. In a vast array of summer blockbusters, The BFG is a definite standout.