Roald Dahl, the writer of the book The BFG (which stands for Big Friendly Giant), is the children’s author who gave us the books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and James and the Giant Peach and Stephen Spielberg is the most famous person on the planet. So, Spielberg taking a classic author’s work and putting it to celluloid should be an absolute no-brainer. Disney putting these two together may as well be both printing money and handing up an instant classic, right? Look at Jaws, Jurassic Park, and The Color Purple and you can see the absolute greatness Spielberg can produce when handed a popular novel to work with.
What Spielberg delivered to us in The BFG is absolutely a lovingly crafted and faithful adaptation of Dahl’s book. The London he puts together for us seems to be a place not entirely in one time period. While dialogue in the film places the story somewhere in the 1980’s, what we see and experience throughout most of the film seems more Dickensian with its stone orphanages and lamplit streets. The land of the giants, too, is a compelling locale with its pastoral landscapes, dank caves filled with wreckage from long gone ages, and forboding marshes taken straight from the darker sections of fairy tales.
The characters, too, are as captivating as the landscapes. While Ruby Barnhill as Sophie may not be the best child actress we’ve seen this year, she does what she needs to to give us a character who is brave, no-nonsense, and likable. She has to carry a good chunk of the movie on her 10 year-old back and while she does slip occasionally, she does an admirable job of it overall. Fortunately, even when she slips Mark Rylance as the titular BFG is there to share the burden and shows that he is more than capable of carrying it entirely on his own if need be. He embues the BFG with all the charm, vulnerability, and, of course, friendliness you could want in the character while also handling his unusual speech and oversized mannerisms as if he’d been actually born into it. Of particular mention are the scenes in which the bashful giant is trying to hide from the normal sized Londoners while in our world, not because he’s bad at it, but because of the contrary and the joy of watching something so large be so creative at hiding his presence is a genuine pleasure.
There are two major caveats surrounding The BFG that absolutely must be discussed when coming up with a recommendation as to whether to see the film or not, however. The first is that this is in every way a children’s film. There are no winks to adults here, no attempts to entertain both audiences equally, this is a film made entirely for children. It uses child logic, child jokes, and child villains. An adult watching the film will have to be very much in tune with their inner child to enjoy the film, I found it to be very much a throwback to the live action Disney films of the 60’s and 70’s like The Love Bug or The Apple Dumpling Gang in its tone and style, and if you have lost that ability then what’s shown here will be dull and absurd.
The second caveat that must be talked about is that this movie is dominated almost entirely with conversation. From beginning to end with very few breaks the film is about two characters, most of the time Sophie and BFG, talking to one another. While the dialogue, particularly BFGs, is fun to listen to, that’s really all you have and if you have any sort of attention deficit, a real problem with many children today, you will be bored and distracted often wanting to move on to the next action set piece, of which there are few and they are spaced far apart and over quickly.
The BFG is an unusual film when it comes to giving recommendations as it’s one I would tell certain audiences it’s a can’t miss, while others I would tell to avoid at all cost. If a movie that is absolutely and completely charming on nearly every level from the dialogue, to the acting, to the set pieces and the art direction is something that speaks to you, then The BFG will definitely have you grinning from ear to ear during its running length. But, if a “talky” movie with very little action doesn’t sound appealing or if you need a more adult level of realism in what you view, then there will be little to nothing here of appeal.
Rating: 6.4 out of 10