a critiQal film review The BFG (2016)

Plot: Ten-year-old Sophie (Barnhill) is in for the adventure of a lifetime when she meets the Big Friendly Giant (Rylance). Naturally scared at first, the young girl soon realizes that the 24-foot behemoth is actually quite gentle and charming. As their friendship grows, Sophie's presence attracts the unwanted attention of Bloodbottler, Fleshlumpeater and other giants. After traveling to London, Sophie and the BFG must convince Queen Victoria (Wilton) to help them get rid of all the bad giants once and for all.

753 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 45s)

When I first heard that The BFG was coming to theaters, I was excited…and nervous. Would they be able to turn one of my favorite books growing up into a big screen adventure that would do justice to the classic tale? Or would they turn it – like another childhood fave of mine, The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (2007) – into some ridiculous mess that’s barely recognizable as the same tale?

With Spielberg at the helm, I had high hopes…but still wouldn’t venture into theaters to see it. If The BFG was going to disappoint me, I wanted it to be in the comfort of my own home, not surrounded by strangers. Eventually, it faded into the past, and I kind of forgot about it….until I ran across it recently in NetFlix®. Finding a good time to watch it took some doing, but finally we settled in to see what the film had in store for us.

Usually, with a big screen adaptation that centers around a kid and his/her unusual friend, the kid is disappointing, and the unusual friend is what makes the film entertaining. Whether it’s Lilo & Stitch (2002), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Home (2015) or The Iron Giant, it’s the friend that’s the entertaining one, while the child varies from dull to entertaining as well. The same holds true for The BFG. Thankfully, the little girl, played by Ruby Barnhill, is decent enough, but the real magic of the film lies with the title character.

And what a character he is. Voiced by Mark Rylance, he’s a mumbling giant teddy bear, and viewers will begin to fall for him as soon as they watch him inventively hide himself while making his way out of the city. There’s something endearing about his character right from the start, and his actions – even though he is shown originally abducting a child – eventually prove this endearing quality out. He’s the star of the show, and viewers will enjoy each and every scene he’s in – which is most of them.

Spielberg hasn’t lost his touch in the director’s chair. Despite having the extra pressure of turning a beloved children’s book into a film, he manages to imbue the film with the same type of innocent magic the novel is full of. While it is a bit childish (the viewer will never really believe the duo is in any real danger), there’s a light-hearted feel to The BFG that, rather than make the film seem childish, actually brings out the inner child in the viewer instead.

Unlike films like Scooby-Doo (2002) that use gross-out humor as their go-to, Spielberg manages to make fart jokes seem almost tasteful. With just a swallow from the giant’s special drink, the drinker quickly lifts himself into the air with a green mist. This leads to a buildup sequence where the queen and her entourage (as stuffy as expected) are gifted a glass of the liquid from the title character. While usually this will have the audience groaning, Spielberg manages to make the buildup to this sequence so teasing, the audience will be giggling with childhood glee at the thought of what’s to happen. Only Spielberg can make a fart joke seem so…respectable.

That same aura of childhood glee surrounds most of the best parts of The BFG. While a lot of that is the directing, the very creation of the title character himself (and his nasty big brothers) is something to be seen. While we as viewers should be rather jaded on CGI these days, sometimes a movie comes along that just surprises us once again. The BFG is one of those films. It’s just something about the BFG that makes him look so realistic, as if the character from the beloved children’s book has actually been brought to life.

In the hands of someone else, The BFG could easily have degenerated into utter groaning ridiculousness. Thankfully, under Spielberg’s masterful hand, all the magic of the book has been lovingly coaxed onto the big screen, and, while the kiddie actor isn’t the best, she’s not the worst either, and wisely stands back to let the magic keep happening around her. With a nostalgic nod to even the drawings from the classic book by Roald Dahl, The BFG once again proves there isn’t much Spielberg can’t do if he puts his mind to it.

If you’re a fan of the classic children’s book, you should enjoy Spielberg’s take on The BFG. It’s a lighthearted magical romp through your childhood memories.

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