THE BFG is here and it’s aiming to make a gigantic impact. Will it succeed? The creative minds of Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl combine in Disney’s latest live-action feature bringing to life a fantasy family adventure about a young girl and a “Big Friendly Giant” with whom she forms an unlikely alliance. The story settles in most squarely on the two and at its heart the story is about friendship.
Mark Rylance is the titular titan and it is harder to tell what is most successful about the character, whether it is the endearing performance or the absolutely incredible computer generated imagery that helped visualize him as a gigantic wonder. As his counterpart, we have Ruby Barnhill who makes her big-screen debut as Sophie, a precocious young orphan who is fueled by ambitions and a moral compass larger and warmer than the BFG himself.
Other supporting cast include giants like Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) who serve as the fearsome brutes and cinematic villains. There is also the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) and her maid Mary (Rebecca Hall) who bring about the hilariously bizarre final act.
It all comes together in a whirlwind of events that bring Sophie to Giant Country under the care of The BFG. From her orphanage to the magical land in the clouds then back down into Buckingham Palace and back up into the clouds, it’s most certainly a journey unlike one seen before.
The end result is a picture that is distinctly Spielberg and yet still magically Roald Dahl. And while the film certainly has a lot of the right components, it somehow doesn’t come together in a manner that’s completely satisfying. What most certainly has the makings of an intriguing adventure unfortunately plays out a bit like a live-action recitation of the chapters from a book versus a film adapted to the big screen for today’s audiences. A much tighter screenplay could have made this a more bankable film.
Still, it would really not be surprising if this actually ends up having legs and later becomes a sort of cult classic. Whether or not it will truly endear will only be known with the passage of time but there certainly are the hallmarks of a beautiful visual feast. It should adhere like glue into the psyches of adventurous minds that are young (or young at heart).
I can envision kids today growing up and recalling when they might have pictured themselves in Sophie’s grand adventure. From her humble intro in the orphanage to the fantastical waterfall dwelling of the BFG, to his pirate ship boat that he calls his bed (yes, a pirate ship bed and it is totally awesome), the film is certainly an unexpected delight for the imagination, even if those delights are seemingly strung together a bit haphazardly. But the film certainly delivers on the fantasy.
Fantasy films that actually make you feel the fantasy without trying to hard to be fantastic really end up having lasting impacts. At least for me. Somehow, as I watched, I felt echoes of classics like Hook, Princess Bride, and Labyrinth but it never quite dares to commit to the world fully. The world of Giant Country is absolutely beautiful; not just in its concept but in its CGI conception. The world is stunningly crafted and yet we spend so very little time exploring it that it feels like an opportunity lost.
Regardless, there is a realistic charm in the moments that matter and it helps ground the emotion when you can believe that the environment is tangible. Moments inside of the BFG’s cave are truly stunning and somehow, despite being massive in scale, feel totally believable. It’s not too unlike the tangible practical sets like the Neverland in Hook, Jareth’s labyrinth, or the Goonies’ caverns.
What’s more, the actual physical connections between the CG and human characters are also handled remarkably well and completely convincingly. I caught myself trying to burst the magic looking for mishandled proportions, awkwardly handled interactions, misaligned shadows, or shaky tracking only to find that it is all handled with superb attention to detail.
So while THE BFG might not necessarily be a box office gargantuan, what is certain is that it’s a fantastical family adventure. To its strength and also its detriment, it has a methodically slow development and that will also likely make this a tough sell. Little ones might get a little fidgety but the film does not pander to gratuitous explosions or modern day tricks for attention and it truly is an imaginative escape into a delightful world.
THE BFG drops into theaters July 1, 2016, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth.