It’s almost odd that it should have taken this long to blend the sensibilities of Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl, two storytellers who speak to children in a poignant and honest way, but better late than never. We finally have this mash-up with the director’s adaptation of Dahl’s The BFG, and it’s a charming, delightful picture that carries echoes of Disney’s Fantasia as it swirls around a dreamscape set to John Williams’ enchanting score. While it does run a bit long and may not captivate younger viewers with shorter attention spans, it still manages to be a treat for the senses and a joy to behold.
Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is an orphan living in London, and one night during the Witching Hour (3am), she spots a giant (Mark Rylance) outside her window. The giant spots her back and realizing that she might tell everyone what she saw, he kidnaps Sophie and takes her back to Giant Country. While at first she tries to escape, she soon strikes up a friendship with the giant, whom she calls “BFG” for “Big Friendly Giant”. But it turns out he’s the runt of the litter and is tormented by the other, bigger giants, who are cannibalistic. Together, Sophie and BFG concoct a plan to stop the mean giants and bring peace to his life.
While the film eventually deals with the mean giants (who have great names likes “Fleshlumpeater” and “Bloodbottler”), a large portion of the film is taken up with the BFG’s profession, which is capturing and delivering dreams. This is where the film feels most like Fantasia as the BFG and Sophie chase down flickering, colored lights while Williams’ playful score carries along in the background. It’s dreamy and it’s bold. Rather than push us through a propulsive plot, these scenes are almost experimental in how they languidly carry us through a dream space. And yet I would argue that while the rest of the film is charming in its own way, the dream capturing sequence is the highlight of the picture.
Not that The BFG forgets its more childish impulses. There’s a drink that causes the BFG to fart and later plays a part in an elaborate, borderline symphonic fart joke, but if you’re going to have a fart joke, I say don’t make any half-measures, and Spielberg carries it all the way. While it is a bit jarring in the third act as the plot brings in more characters to help carry through Sophie and the Giant’s plan, it’s still incredibly charming throughout. This is just a movie that plants a giant smile on your face and doesn’t relent for the entirety of its runtime.
A large part of that is due to the chemistry between Rylance and Barnhill. Rylance is absolutely lovable as The BFG and Barnhill adds herself to the ranks of the great child performances that have appeared in Spielberg’s films. The two are just so endearing, and you find yourself cheering for their friendship. They’re both outsiders who need each other and yet we know that they ultimately can’t be together because they’re from two different worlds. It’s a melancholy note that the movie never shies away from, but it doesn’t overplay it either.
While the movie could stand to be a bit shorter (the third act does run on a little long), The BFG is a total charmer, and one of the best friendship tales in recent memory. It’s also nice to see Spielberg indulge his more experimental side, and when he does, The BFG is the stuff dreams are made of.