The BFG Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter: Melissa Mathison
Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Jemaine Clement, Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG | 117 Minutes
Release Date: July 1, 2016
Roald Dahl created some of the most beloved children’s stories of the 20th century, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Like Walt Disney, Dahl had a knack for fusing the fantastic with the frightening, blending sweetness with sadness in a way that resonated with old and young alike.
Dahl’s The BFG was first published in 1982, the same year Steven Spielberg’s own seminal tale of friendship, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, captured the hearts and imaginations of audiences around the world. It’s funny how things work out. Three decades later, Spielberg and his E.T. collaborator, the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison, have adapted the Dahl’s timeless adventure for the big screen.
Ruby Barnhill stars as Sophie, a 10-year-old orphan who befriends BFG (Mark Rylance), a big friendly giant who bottles dreams and blows them into the bedrooms of sleeping children. Together they set out on an adventure to stop Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), Bloodbottler (Bill Hader), and the other man-eating giants who have been — gulp — eating children. Sophie, being the plucky and resourceful kid she is, orchestrates a plan that will involve the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) and a particularly nasty dream concocted by BFG.
Barnhill is delightful as young Sophie, but it’s Mark Rylance’s incredible performance that will endear audiences to The BFG for years to come. After winning an Oscar for his role as Russian spy Rudolf Abel in Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, the English actor makes an about-face as an impossibly sweet giant who is bullied by his bigger, meaner brethren. Utilizing performance-capture technology, the 5′ 8″ thespian inhabits the computer-generated giant in a way that is simply dazzling.
What Rylance accomplishes here is akin to what Andy Serkis achieved in the Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes films. It’s because of his warm and disarming performance that we believe in a world filled with frobscottle and snozzcumbers, where Giant Country exists just off the edge of the map and dreams can be caught like butterflies with a net. It’s the kind of movie magic that only the combined forces of Dahl, Spielberg, and Mathison could conjure.
Another key ingredient in the movie’s potent potion is Walt Disney Pictures, who is distributing the film. Walt Disney believed that for every laugh, there should be a tear. It’s that signature combination of darkness and light that defined animated classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo. The BFG marks Spielberg’s directorial debut for Disney, which is interesting considering so much of his work – films like E.T., Hook, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence – adheres to that same belief.
The BFG is a wondrous creation by master storytellers, with lovely performances and dazzling special effects. To say it’s one of the best films of the summer isn’t high praise as much as it is the result of a process of elimination. With the exception of Captain America: Civil War and The Jungle Book, the summer movie season has been pretty abysmal. When compared to the likes of Independence Day: Resurgence, Warcraft, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, however, it’s hard not to consider Spielberg’s latest a giant success.
Like the book it’s adapted from, The BFG is made for children, and kids will no doubt identify with the precocious Sophie and dream of exploring Giant Country with Rylance’s heartwarming character. Mileage may vary for adults, depending on the current level of cynicism they’re operating at, and how much they enjoy fart jokes. July 1 is the film’s release date, which happens to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth. I could think of worse ways to celebrate the life of one of literature’s most prolific authors than seeing a wonderfully realized film adaptation of one his most adored works by one of the greatest storytellers of our time.