It’s been a while since Steven Spielberg has made a family movie, and his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG is perhaps his best family film since E.T. Throughout the film he faithfully adapts the source material to bring the eponymous giant and his world to the big screen with charm and humour. Spielberg also doesn’t shy away from the ghastly nature of the other, less-than-friendly giants who prefer to mush humans up into jelly or just eat them whole.
The tale begins with an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who spends her nights in the orphanage reading under her blankets and occasionally telling the drunks on the street to keep the noise down. One night she notices something amiss and before she can process the giant down the street, he promptly kidnaps her. The giant is the BFG (Oscar winner Mark Rylance) and despite his actions he and Sophie become friends and allies. He must keep her a secret from the other giants (with names like Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater) or Sophie will suffer a horrible fate.
Spielberg does an excellent job keeping the story going, and thanks to Dahl’s charming BFG dialogue there is plenty of humour. BFG really comes to life off the page with exceptional CGI and his “squiggly” manner of speaking; almost every line he had got a chuckle from someone in the theatre. While it’s been many years since reading The BFG, I can say that all of the parts that stuck out in the book (and there were many) were all there, with few exceptions. Gone are the racially insensitive ways the giants described human “beans” from around the world, but that didn’t detract from the story at all and probably saved the film from a media fracking.
Barnhill and Rylance have a great chemistry, and watching the two play off each other is a joy. Barnhill deserves a lot of credit for pulling off a great performance, considering BFG was done with mocap. Rylance really made BFG come to life. and hopefully some day soon the Academy will start to honour mocap performances like this one. Penelope Wilton also stood out playing the Queen of England with all of the grace and stature you would expect from the role.
The mocap animation of BFG and the other giants really does bring the story to life, but unfortunately the story is kind of thin. In this case it isn’t a totally bad thing; it is a family affair and there is plenty to keep everybody interested. But we’re not shown any of the bad giants kidnapping and eating people—we just hear a lot about it. So when Sophie and BFG start coming up with a plan to deal with them for good, we don’t have a sense of how big the problem is. We just have their word for it.
Dahl’s work has never been given more justice on the big screen. While not perfect, The BFG is a cinematic work that families will enjoy for years to come. It treats the kids in the audience like adults (instead of trying to make them dumber—I’m looking at you, Spongebob) and the adults will feel like kids watching one of their classics come to life. So get in your carriage cars and go the cinematorials with a big bag of popping munchy munch corn, because The BFG is a true Spielberg classic.