Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 117 Minutes PG
In 1982 Steven Spielberg gave the world the story of an alien who befriended a young boy in his movie E.T. That same year Roald Dahl wrote the book BFG that gave readers a heartwarming friendship between an eccentric giant and a 10 year old orphan girl. Now, 34 years later, these parallel tales have come full circle with Spielberg directing the movie version of The Big Friendly Giant. It’s a glowing, ornate animated world of adventure, beauty and danger that takes us from a land of magic all the way to Buckingham Palace!
The screenplay for The BFG was written by the late Melissa Mathieson who, coincidentally, also wrote the E.T. screenplay. She died last year but Spielberg made sure she was able to see many of the completed scenes. This film is dedicated to her.
The movie plays as pure fantasy and fairy tale. Sophie, the orphan girl played with “Annie”-like-spunk by Ruby Barnhill, keeps her eyes out the window every night. She catches a glimpse of a huge shadow and sees a Giant (Mark Rylance). Once he realizes he’s been discovered, he whisks Sophie away to Giant Country. This is where she learns that BFG is being bullied by his much bigger and meaner giants. These brutes, with names like Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) have unusually sensitive nostrils. Once they get a whiff of Sophie they are looking to make her their dinner main course.
Mark Rylance, who, under Spielberg’s direction, won the Oscar for “Bridge of Spies” plays the Big Friendly Giant. Spielberg asked him to look at THE BFG script on the second day of shooting the spy thriller. Rylance thought he was only being asked for an opinion of the script, never thinking Spiels berg was looking him to be the star of the show. Rylance plays the part with warmth and emotional honesty, but Dahl also wrote him as a quirky, eccentric who mangles language in hysterical fashion. He also has a favorite fizzy brew that causes huge explosions of green farts. It’s so Dahl’s brand of humor.
Rylance is a big fan of Dahl’s work and says that Spielberg and his creative staff started to veer away from the book, but decided to go back to the original which made him happy.
The sweet part of The BFG’s existence is his Dream Country. The reason he leaves Giant Country each night is to collect and plant dreams as the children sleep. The scenes inside his cave/home with the bottled dreams pulsating and glowing are sheer delight. They provide great visuals, and creative, light hearted fun.
But Roald Dahl’s stories always evoke some darkness. In this case children have been going missing in England. Sophie urges BFG to not only stand up to the other bullies, but to come out of the shadows and help. This sets up the third act where Sophie gets BFG an audience with the Queen (Penelope Wilton), and breakfast in the royal palace. The detail in this scene and the expression of the Queen and her attendants provides some good laughs. It’s an outrageous situation and some of the funniest scenes are at the palace. Bodily functions are involved. Even the Queen’s corgis get into the act.
Is this movie worth your bucks? There’s never any doubt that Steven Spielberg loves telling stories and he goes way back with this one. He says he read The BFG to his on kids. This is also a movie that sparks the imagination with unusual visuals and unlikely friendships. The connection between Sophie and BFG in this film doesn’t feel as authentic as the friendship that develops in E.T. When they say good-bye here, there isn’t that same heart tugging, lump-in-the-throat moment. That’s not to say this isn’t a sweet movie that tells a good story and keeps your eyes on the screen. But we felt that, at 2 hours, this film was long, especially for the intended audience, which are young kids.
We still think you should see this piece of literary art brought to life on the screen. The BFG should have been more OMG, and maybe a little more LOL but it’s still more than A-OK.