Spielberg's enchanting take on Dahl's endearing BFG | Lauren Enk Mann | CWR
While Steven Spielberg apparently couldn’t resist inserting some strange and unnecessary additions, "BFG" is refreshingly free of agenda and is filled with spectacular visual details.
Film adaptations of storyteller Roald Dahl’s work have always been rather hit or miss; his quirky sense of humor, fanciful stories, and typically one-dimensional characters are difficult to translate effectively to the screen. Moreover, Dahl’s original tales are often punctuated by a morbidity akin to Grimm’s fairy tales and foreign to modern children’s stories, and are thus difficult to recreate convincingly as family film fare. Nonetheless, many other quirky geniuses, like Tim Burton and Wes Anderson, have tried their hands at adapting his work, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to Matilda to Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Now, The BFG, perhaps the most endearing of Dahl’s tales, gets its turn at the hands of Hollywood’s moguls, in a summer blockbuster directed by Steven Spielberg. And Spielberg’s BFG neither departs wildly from nor adheres slavishly to Dahl’s story, making it about as enjoyable and faithful an adaptation of the book as could possibly have been hoped.
From the start, the film’s obvious crowning achievement is certainly the BFG himself. The homely giant is a masterpiece of animation, with his giant wiggling ears and his gangly legs balancing out his soulful eyes and kindly wrinkled face. His most lovable trait—his mixed up way of speaking—is reproduced here exactly as in the book, voiced to perfection by Mark Rylance. Loping about the London streets at night, hooded and cloaked, with a bag of dreams and a trumpet to blow them into the rooms of sleeping children, the BFG is a combination of mythical creature and homely secret philanthropist. Easily keeping pace with the larger-than-life BFG is Ruby Barnhill, absolutely perfect as the intrepid and practical bookworm orphan named Sophie. Barnhill captures Sophie’s bravery and obvious precociousness (how many ten year olds typically read Nicholas Nickleby?) with innocent and unaffected charm.
Yet it is the chemistry between the appealingly articulate Sophie and the fumbling giant that arguably keeps the film afloat in Dahl’s at times ridiculous plotline. The bravehearted and intelligent little girl is a fitting companion and counterpoint to the misspeaking, kind-hearted Big Friendly Giant; like him, she is something of an outcast, awake alone at night. He treats her with gentleness and kindness, and she in turn gives him respect and encouragement. While at times their relationship may wander into the saccharine, Sophie’s youthful boldness and the BFG’s tender, grandfatherly care for her makes their friendship blossom onscreen, even when threatened by the destructive invasions of the BFG’s home by the oafish, man-eating giants like Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater.
In this unlikely friendship, moral themes regarding courage, transgression, and reparation make an appearance.