Roald Dahl wrote many classic children’s novels that mix elements of reality and fantasy to create unique and memorable stories. Several of these, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” have been transformed for the big screen, the latest of which is Disney’s “The BFG.”
“The BFG” stars Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, 10-year-old orphan who is snatched from her bed after seeing a mysterious, hulking figure through the window of her orphanage. She is taken to a far-away land and told by her captor that she is in the Land of Giants, and introduces himself as the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). Sophie realizes that her new friend, whom she calls BFG, is a gentle soul who delivers dreams to the sleeping citizens of London, but is pushed around by the other, larger giants in the Land of Giants.
“The BFG” is directed by Steven Spielberg and is the first partnership between the director and Disney. When speaking on what drew him to the movie, Spielberg said: “what 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.”
The movie was filmed using a mix of live-action shooting and performance capture digital techniques. This method was developed to ensure that Barnhill and Rylance interactions could act against each other, instead of separately, only to be spliced together later. “Actors need each other to act together,” Spielberg says. “It all comes down to the actors being able to look each other in the eye.”
Unfortunately, “The BFG” falls short of prior Roald Dahl adaptations and other films released by Disney this year. The chief issue with the movie is that it really is a children’s movie, nothing more. The humor of the movie comes almost exclusively from fart jokes and the arc of the plot teeters between overly simple and absurd. “The BFG” also lacks emotional depth, or any feeling at all, which is particularly evident compared to the last film Disney released: “Finding Dory.”
The movie’s visuals are also pretty uninspired. BFG sits firmly in the uncanny valley and balances on the knife edge of ridiculous looking and creepy for the whole film. The Land of Giants, supposedly a mystic fantasy land, for the most part, just looks like English countryside. Again, the underwhelming look of the movie stands out compared to April’s “The Jungle Book.”
Maybe the conceit of an English child in pajamas being precocious is just so played out that this is inevitable, but this movie’s cardinal sin is how boring it is. The first hour and a half oscillates between being dull and being kind of gross (at one point, Sophie ends up inside of a large squishy vegetable called a snozzcumber). About 20 of the last 30 minutes (yes, this movie is a full two hours long), are actually pretty entertaining. The bright spots of this movie both come from The Queen (Penelope Wilton) who has three corgis and one Ronald Reagan joke that really make the film.
It’s hard to see children who were treated to movies like “Finding Dory” and “The Jungle Book” this year being that taken with “The BFG.” I would say that unless you are a really devoted fan of the novel, you can probably skip this movie, at least until it comes out on DVD.