Cinematic Releases: The BFG (2016) - Reviewed

Dana reviews the anxiously awaited animated film, The BFG. 

From Steven Spielberg comes this long-awaited adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl book, The BFG – a gentle film starring an effects-enhanced Mark Rylance as the titular Big Friendly Giant and young Ruby Barnhill as the orphan, Sophie, who befriends him. Sophie, kept awake by her insomnia, catches a glimpse of the BFG outside her orphanage’s window one night as he is out delivering dreams to the sleeping world of London, and as he whisks her up and off to Giant Country, her life is changed forever by her special new friendship.

Dude. Your shoulder is rad. So much better than driving a car. 

Lovingly crafted as all Spielberg masterworks tend to be, the visuals in this film are a lightly fanciful lullaby; there is a distinction between the magical worlds of the BFG’s home and his beloved Dream Country, where he catches dreams like fireflies in mason jars to spread amongst the slumbering world, and the hum-drum reality of Sophie’s England. The relationship that blossoms between girl and giant is predictably saccharine; the BFG’s bullied station as the runt of the giants who refuses to eat children the way his brutish neighbors do mirrors the lonely little orphan girl’s bookish otherness the way one expects it will at the outset. Unfortunately, the only really genuine puzzle piece is the Giant himself – a doddering, wistful soul who serves the world he loves with all his heart, most poignantly, by being its secret-bearer. Barnhill’s Sophie is sympathetic enough, but is so strangely schoolmarmish that she comes off largely as a petulant shrew for much of the film, too much a contrast to the BFG’s far more childlike blundering and almost shy regard for the whisperings of life all around him.

Their friendship should be at the crux of the story, but it is overshadowed by a desire to tell the story of how, trapping a special nightmare to feed the Queen, Sophie and her Giant concoct a plan to be rid of the nine barbaric, cannibalistic giants who share Giant Country with the BFG – and get in several fart jokes while they go about it. The stakes are not explored deeply enough, however, with the only real reason given that any giant seems to want to eat anyone being their thuggish nature; the BFG alone seems to be intelligent enough to be self-aware, preferring to feast on vegetables called ‘snozzcumbers’ (one is led to believe these are not nearly as appetizing as Wonka’s snozzberries, however). Whenever the relationship at the heart of the film is threatened, it seems difficult to really care about it; the sense of danger doesn’t rise enough for us to be driven into the characters’ world.

To be sure, there is a general element of lovely whimsy, present in all narrative which originates with Dahl – but unlike films based on his other works, the world-building just is not entirely present here. The most fully realized scenes in The BFG come during the dream-harvesting, as Sophie follows her Giant through a mirror-pond into a resplendent, glowing nocturnal world where nightmares and beautiful dreams are born, their colorful fairy-shapes swirling and dancing through ancient, gnarled dreaming-trees to be caught in the tender hands of the BFG to later be released into the hearts and minds of those to whom they call.

Dang. It just got scary around here. 

All in all, The BFG is a family film with very little at stake in its narrative. But even at its most dramatic, or even mildly violent, it carries little weight and doesn’t really delve deeply enough into the connection between its two protagonists to help us form an emotional bond to their friendship, or care much about its outcome. It is plain to see how Sophie and her Giant influence one another, but the point of the story tangles itself in too much forced sentimentality, leaving our dreams stuck in their lightning-jars, beating against the glass, hoping for escape into the music of the stars which only a Big Friendly Giant can hear.

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-Dana Culling