Movie review: The BFG

There have been numerous memorable adaptations of Roald Dahl books, from Wes Anderson's brilliant stop-motion animation Fantastic Mr Fox to Tim Burton's excessively art-directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Now comes Steven Spielberg's charming and technically impressive rendering of The BFG.

Dahl's The BFG was the expansion of a short story that first appeared in his book Danny, the Champion of the World, and is filled with themes of loneliness and friendship, courage, and seeing past appearances - all themes relished by Spielberg.

In Disney's fantasy-adventure THE BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Roald Dahl's beloved classic.
In Disney's fantasy-adventure THE BFG, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Roald Dahl's beloved classic.

Combining real-life action with motion-capture cleverness and imaginative CGI, Spielberg has made a film that personifies the titular character, the Big Friendly Giant. It's warm, caring, thoughtful and full of magic, and though pre-schoolers may get a lost in its waffly pacing, there's enough wonder to enthral young and old.

The star of the show is Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), who creates one of the most loveable characters I've seen on screen for a long time. His motion-capture acting is superb and it's hard to take your eyes off the big-eyed, expressive and willowy creature as he chops up disgusting snozzcumbers to eat and creates dreams in his underground laboratory. It's hard to imagine a more perfect Big Friendly Giant.

Ruby Barnhill is a very competent young actress and takes on the technically complicated role of stroppy orphan Sophie with aplomb.

Sophie accidentally spots the BFG wandering the streets of London, blowing dreams into the ears of sleeping people. The BFG, worried Sophie will reveal his existence, kidnaps her and takes her to Giant Country. There, she gets her head around the BFG's nonsensical gobblefunked words, learns the secrets of conjuring dreams, and discovers that the other larger giants bully the BFG for not eating "human-beans".

Most importantly though, they become friends and Sophie comes up with a plan to get the other giants to leave Runt, as they call the BFG, alone. The BFG is not as dark and scary as it is portrayed in the trailer -- what was Disney thinking? Though filled with giants such as Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), who crunches on human bones, they're also delightfully dimwitted and full of slapstick fun, giving a much lighter tone than you'd expect.

Ruby Barnhill in a scene the movie The BFG. Photo / AP
Ruby Barnhill in a scene the movie The BFG. Photo / AP

The story takes a slightly silly turn when the BFG visits the Queen, but though it seems slightly out of sync with the rest of the film, it does deliver a classic fart, or "whizzpopper", joke, which has everyone in hysterics.

The BFG drags a little in the middle when Sophie and the BFG meander around Giant Country, the result of a story rather short on plot and of Spielberg's gentle pace. I also wondered whether the film's poetic ideas, such as the BFG being able to hear the "whispers of the world", were being absorbed by my 7-year-old daughter.

But when she woke the following morning I heard her say, "Good morning BFG." Delightful indeed.


Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 118 mins
Rating: PG (Some scenes may scare young children)

- NZ Herald

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