Roald Dahl’s books hold a unique place in the hearts of many children and adults. That’s because Dahl combines an awareness of the nastiness of everyday life (mean people, bodily functions, nightmares) with unusual, magical stories where children and those they love find unexpected power over the nastiness. His dark humor only adds to the fun for readers of all ages.
My children (all teens) were as eager as I was to see how The BFG translated to the big screen in the hands of Steven Spielberg. The story of orphaned Sophie and her new friend, the Big Friendly Giant, seems like a natural—lots of humor, entertaining wordplay, scary bad guys, and even a visit to the Queen of England.
The BFG is a good guy who befriends little Sophie, but he is also the subject of bullying in his world, where he is much smaller than the other meaner, human-eating giants. When the BFG brings Sophie to his part of the world, she sees both his loving, nurturing nature as well as the hardships his fellow giants impose on him. Eventually, when she realizes that the other giants are feeding on “human beans,” she convinces him that they can stop the murderous fiends, and they put their plan into action.
Some portions of the movie hit the mark. Specifically, Mark Rylance’s motion-captured performance as the BFG is fantastic. He is a great actor, as he recently proved with scene-stealing subtlety in Bridge of Spies, and his sweet, slightly sad characterization perfectly befits the BFG. Ruby Barnhill is also well-suited to the role of the wide-eyed yet no-nonsense young Sophie. There is a segment of lovely animation of their explorations at night, and the scene where the BFG eventually comes to meet the queen left the young children at our screening beside themselves with laughter.
However, something was lost in translation. The first portion of the movie spends a lot of time building the world of the BFG, but somehow it falls a bit flat. The delicious, comically muddled form of English that the BFG speaks is often lost or left without enough signals for the young audience to catch what he is really saying. And the thread of the story is sometimes dropped, to the point that I wondered if anyone who hadn’t read the book would even know why the characters were doing what they were doing.
I’d highly recommend reading Dahl’s book before seeing the movie. And since the uneven charms of the film would still be just as charming on your TV, you might save the big bucks for something else and wait for this on DVD or streaming services. (Walt Disney)