The BFG Movie Review
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The BFG is a fairy tale of sorts. Sophie (Ruby Barnhill, 4 O’Clock Club) is an orphan cleaning up after a forgetful headmistress in a large rambling children’s asylum (or orphanage, if it suits you). Late one night she spies a large giant silently walking the streets. Her curiosity gets her kidnapped and Sophie is taken far away to Giant Country where she has to stay for the rest of her life because she might tell and that would make things very hard for the giant. This giant (Mark Rylance, The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)) has a very special job: catching dreams and distributing them to folks in the greater London area. He wouldn’t be able to do that if people knew what he was doing. He’s fiercely proud of his job and the dreams he gives away – and even relishes in the occasional nightmare he rehomes.
While discussing all things hard on giants, Sophie’s giant is tormented by larger, far less friendly giants. They keep him from going to work, bully him, and make his life miserable. She names him BFG for “Big Friendly Giant” (totally not where I would have gone with that acronym) when all of the other giants have cool names like “Fleshlumpeater” (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) and “Bloodbottler” (Bill Hader, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)). Heck, “Gary” would have been alright, but I digress.
Sophie’s treatment of him really isn’t much better, correcting his jumbled language (constantly) and turning up her nose at meals. She’s the tourist that corrects the grammar of the natives and it’s a little grating. You want to shout, “LEAVE HIM ALONE!” and secretly hopes she gets eaten.
Maybe that was just me.
As the movie spools out, you can see why Sophie doesn’t have many friends at the orphanage, and doesn’t even seem to be missed when she manages to return home. She’s bossy and hard-headed and contrary to just about anything she doesn’t like. Sophie may be an orphan, but really this is her world and we’re just living in it, getting in her way of her dreams.
And that’s the point, right – this story is only about Sophie and Sophie is the center of all things. There is no interaction, and she’s as inconsequential to the world around her as the world around her is to Sophie. She even gets to meet the Queen (Penelope Wilton) in a scheme that would only work in a Roald Dahl story.
Which for a child of 6-12, is exactly how they see the world. They will laugh at the funny food and farts, they will sufficiently dismayed over the treatment of the BFG, and will cheer when it all works out in the end. You on the other hand might shake your head because it’s just a little too neat and the climax is just a little too final and adult.
This Spielbergian world is filled with terrifying giants, gross food and the set up to a fart joke that knows how to play the long game. Motion Capture, the IT-SPX of the 21st Century is used to amazing effect to really bring the giants to life. However, that’s about all The BFG brings to the table. It’s a thin story with characters that are either transparent or wooden and while there is a linear conclusion, it takes the scenic route to get there. Lots of things like details and facts (what some of us call plot) are shoved aside for the “gee-whiz” surprise of the special effects. For kids, this is probably fine. They already dwell in a land of heart and hope and a determination that can conquer all obstacles.
For adults, I don’t believe this would be wholly enjoyable film. It doesn’t have the impact like the adaptations of The Witches (1990) or James and the Giant Peach (1996). It feels uneven and a little forced, and frankly I expect better from director Steven Spielberg. I could be projecting because I don’t particularly like little kids and I especially don’t like little girls who interrupt people because they need to be the biggest thing in the room. I don’t plan on working through that particular issue.
Take your wee ones and perhaps through their eyes you can get lost in a whimsical world of kind giants and strong little girls.
Or a nap. You could also likely catch a nap.
This movie is rated PG for some between the fingers scariness for littles and fart jokes.