Roald Dahl’s story of the friendship between young orphan Sophie and a big friendly giant was made into a sweet animated movie back in 1989, but this live action/CGI version boasts Steven Spielberg as director, a cast that includes Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, and a script by the late Melissa Mathison (who also wrote the ET screenplay).
As you’d expect from Spielberg, it looks sumptuous. Sophie (Barnhill)’s orphanage home is in a London that is all cobbled streets, dim street lamps and Mini Cooper cars, but she can’t sleep at night and it is then that she spots a giant (Rylance), who scoops her up and spirits her away, lest she reveal his existence. BFG’s home, leaps and bounds across the clouds past the north of Britain, is stunning to view, too – hills that reveal hidden bullying giants much bigger than BFG, a rickety home with a boat for a bed and a secret room filled with his ‘work’, dreams captured in jars that he delivers to children at night.
Unfortunately, once we have marvelled at BFG’s world – and there is a pretty, if somewhat slow, sequence of him catching some dreams – the middle section plods along rather slowly until the other giants (with names such as Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler and Maidmasher) guess that BFG may have a human tucked away that they would like to eat. So it’s off to London for Sophie and the BFG, where they hope to convince the Queen (Wilton) to help them.
Fans of the novel will be pleased to note that the BFG’s odd language is retained, and the CGI’d Rylance looks and sounds exactly how you imagine him to be. Barnhill, meanwhile, hits just the right notes as little Sophie (all the more impressive when you realise it’s her first major role) and the supporting cast are a treat too, especially Wilton, and Rafe Spall as perplexed palace butler Mr Tibbs.
Surprisingly, and perhaps partly due to the lull in the plotting and the source material (after all, this is a slightly dark tale of a big man who snatches a girl in the middle of the night), the letdown of The BFG is that it doesn’t have the joyous or magical feeling we’ve come to expect from Spielberg’s fantasy films. It looks great, has lovely performances and does have it’s heart in the right place, but in the end it doesn’t quite add up to a classic fairy tale, just an enjoyable but slightly forgettable one.
Is The BFG (2016) suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Viewers under the age of 8 and sensitive children may find some scenes frightening, including the scene in which BFG first takes Sophie from her orphanage. They may find BFG scary before they realise he’s nice.
Younger children may also be frightened by scenes featuring the nasty, bigger giants who bully BFG and want to eat Sophie.