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Disney presents a Roald Dahl classic directed by Steven Spielberg. In an imaginative tale filled with magic, wonder and unexpected friendship, a young girl is launched on an enormous adventure when she crosses paths with a mysterious being called the Big Friendly Giant.
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As a family movie, it doesn’t get much better. BFG spoke to my wife and me, and my two sons, (ages 7 and 9), on different levels yet still allowed us to connect and talk about the film days later. After all, isn’t this the true point of movies – to tell and re-tell the story, long after the lights have come back on and the theater is empty?
For the adults, BFG offers insights into one of the greatest mysteries of aging, the loss of friends and increase in loneliness as the years pass. The BFG himself is a sensitive and complex being who is alone, a hermit of sorts. His only “human” contact is the nefarious giant bullies who periodically intrude upon him and outlandishly degrade him. He is, in a sense, Corey Haim in his most prized role of Lucas, even down to catching dreams in jars via beautiful things that fly. But, when fate connects him to Sophia, an orphan, they begin a journey together that breaks their parallel cycle of loneliness. In the process they establish a love and commitment to each other that develops bonds of true friendship. This is quintessential sappy Spielberg, but isn’t that why we love him?
For the kids, BFG has the excitement of wonder – the main character is a kid, it’s full of giants, there are new unexplored lands, it features the Queen of England and – wait for it – giant farts! What would a movie with a friendly giant be if there wasn’t a juvenile ode to that bodily function that has been captured from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Caddyshack and Austin Powers? Yet, there is far more going on here to keep it from whiffing. BFG conveys to kids in a relatable but non-preachy way that it is okay to be afraid, but eventually you have to stand up to your fears. When you do good things happen.
So, why didn’t BFG reach its potential? A few things methinks. Was there any other book adapted movie more in need of a title change? Even my 7 and 9 year olds knew that the “F” didn’t really mean “friendly.” It also happened to be competing against Finding Dory – which leads me back to my first paragraph. Lastly, its greatest asset was also its greatest weakness, Spielberg himself. More specifically, it is the legend of Spielberg. The man is like King Midas, every movie he touches is expected to turn to gold. He is no longer allowed to make a good, decent family friendly movie. It has to be E.T. or Indiana Jones. If it’s not, then we consider it Hook, which once again brings me back to my first paragraph, but I digress. BFG was, in my humble opinion, a victim of Spielberg’s success. And that my friends is a shame.
So do yourself a favor, go see BFG, but skip the over-buttered popcorn. I guarantee you won’t miss it.
Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is whisked away to Giant Country when she accidently spots a giant (Mark Rylance) going about his business in the middle of the night. She and her new friend, the BFG, must come up with a plan to stop his friends from kidnapping and eating children in England.
What did I think?
If you ever read this Roald Dahl book as a child, this movie will be a giant (geddit?), nostalgic punch right in the feels. The BFG himself is brought to glorious life through the ever-expressive face of Rylance and the deft touches of a very talented animation team. The dream worlds fizz with life and imaginative design that leaps off the page.
Adapting a rather short story into a full-length movie has its pitfalls though, and the pace does seem to lag in the middle, as smaller ideas from the novel feel fleshed out for time.
Though some of Dahl’s darker ideas are glossed over (as they always seem to be in movie form), and the Sophie seems a bit more precocious than I remember her, The BFG (both movie and character) is still rather charming.