Heart. The big deal about The BFG is the film’s heart (that’s Big Friendly Giant to you and me). One could say that it’s Steven Spielberg who has never had a film directed under the Disney banner, something he is very happy to say is now off his list. One could say it’s the amazing performance by Mark Rylance as The BFG who has been awarded some of the highest honors in the acting profession – three time Tony Award winner, two time Olivier Award winner (the London version of the Tonys), and an Oscar winner, not to mention the number of nominations in each of those categories and for the Emmy Awards and SAG Awards. One could say Roald Dahl himself who’s characteristic charm and imagination colored with a dab of darkness comes through in this film. But ultimately it is the heart of the BFG himself that comes towering through.
Based on Dahl’s classic book (which was actually based on a reference from another Dahl book, Danny the Champion of the World), The BFG is the story of a big giant and a little girl who become unlikely friends, find renewed hope for life with one another, and end up saving all of England in the process. Mark Rylance does an amazing job in bringing the character of the BFG to life. Through his vocal talents, audiences can hear and feel the heart of the character, his raw emotions, and his passion and compassion for others. Equally impressive is Ruby Barnhill as Sophie who does a wonderful job in portraying Sophie as tough, intelligent, kind, no-nonsense, and brave.
When asked why he went back to telling another human/creature story as he has done in the past, Spielberg said, “[W]hat really appealed to me was the fact that the protagonist was a girl, not a boy. And it was a very strong girl. And the protagonist was going to allow us at a certain point, to believe that four feet tall can completely outrank 25 feet of giant. And I got very excited that this was going to be a little girl’s story, and her courage, and her values, was going to, in a way, turn the cowardly lion into the brave hero at the end – which is what she turns BFG into. And I saw all kinds of Wizard of Oz comparisons when I was first reading the book, and I said, ‘Oh, here’s a real chance to do a story about Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion – just the two of them.'”
Part of Spielberg had a hard time seeing the action in the story moving along. He complained to writer Melissa Mathison that “It’s gotta go faster.” He recalls her response, “‘Now, Steve, you know that this isn’t one of your Indiana Jones movies. And you should just relax, because this is going to be a story where the pauses are as important as the words I’ve written, and the words Dahl has written – the pauses, the spaces, the patience of the storytelling. Don’t rush it, because it doesn’t work rushed. It only works unfolding the way it’s unfolding.’ And that was the best advice she could give me, and she was absolutely right. Film has its own biorhythm, and you can’t push it. You just can’t.” Mathison previously collaborated with Spielberg on perhaps his most famous work E.T. Unfortunately, Mathison passed away in 2015. This film is dedicated to her and is her last credited work.
It is precisely those gaps, what isn’t said as well as what is said, that makes this such a charming movie. Sometimes the silence is as telling as the dialogue. The wonderful thing about The BFG is the charming and heartwarming story behind it all. As in most Dahl stories, there is an element of darkness to it – giants stealing children out of their beds in the middle of the night. The BFG even steals Sophie because he fears she will expose Giant Country to the world. And although hinted at but never expressly shown or said, the young boy who used to live with The BFG met a gruesome fate at the hands of the more ruthless giants. But the magic and creativity of Dahl’s story shines through in this adaptation of his work. Spielberg does an admirable job of blending together many different elements in production to bring this book to life. And although the animation doesn’t have the same strength of quality that a Pixar film often brings to the table, it takes away very little from the enjoyment of this family friendly film.
The BFG opens on July 1st in theaters nationwide and is rated PG. There are some elements of the story that may be frightening for very young children (kids being kidnapped in the middle of the night and the implication that they are being eaten), but overall a charming and worthwhile family film of love and friendship.