The BFG movie full length review - Introducing a Generation to the Modern-Day Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, a seven-year-old boy dedicated his free time to one thing and one thing only: fairy tales.
He would make his family reenact his favorite stories, take his father to see low-budget musical productions of these stories, and even illustrate his own versions of Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs, Rapunzel, and so on and so forth. Coupled with the Disney classics, he simply could not get enough of these highly interpretive whimsical tales. Then came the third grade, when he read a little book called The BFG. As he read it, he had difficulty putting it down because of the wonderfully dim- witted yet big heart of the title character. Even to this day he still remembers how heavily it resonated with his love for fantasy.
Yes, I was that boy from the story. While this book has stayed in the back of my head for years, I never lost my love of fairy tales, particularly in what Disney can do with them. Then Steven Spielberg announced his upcoming project focused on the classic: very dumbfounding considering how he has long ago retired the captivating child fantasies for much more mature political studies. My admiration of Spielberg's heart for filmmaking did not affect my concern on how it would result; at the same time, I knew The BFG needed to scare us and make us smile at the same time, reminding us of the good in the world.
The Big Friendly Giant himself, portrayed through CGI magic by Mark Rylance, makes any true kid at heart fall in love with him. What he does is simple: he snatches children in the night at the witching hour, and takes them away into Giant Country. It's the only company he could ever find, as the other, much larger giants see him as an insult to giant peoples. During the day, he catches dreams found in a magical tree, sorts them into jars, and blows them into children's heads at night. Much like the sandman or the tooth fairy or old Saint Nick, here is yet another entity for children's nighttime fantasies. This elephant-eared giant may look evil at first as he hides his way through London's streets, but after hearing his kindly, sluggish speech, you instantly feel a personal connection with him. It's just a shame that the film is anchored by an unbelievable relationship between the BFG and little Sophie.
Ruby Barnhill plays the orphan who stays up during the witching hour with the cat, and I could easily imagine any other actress in her shoes and playing the part possibly better. She isn't introduced with much detail, as she is carried away by the BFG too soon for a desire of following her journey to be initiated. It wasn't scary like it intended to feel, and nobody explained why the BFG chose her in particular to bring home. Maybe it explained in the book but I can't remember.
Even without the girl-giant bond, the environment creation makes up for the entertainment. Composer John Williams does it again with his spellbinding sounds of sweet dreams, and production designer Rick Carter (Lincoln, Jurassic Park) recreates the large color of dreams with an upside-down tree shrouded with all the glowing sprites of dreams. Together, they create a spectacular light-show of northern lights, dripping leaves, and sprite chasing like we've all felt at some point way back when. If only the creative geniuses went back to old-school special effects without all the obtrusive CGI, then these moments would have felt all the more nostalgic for the generations beyond the millennials.
If you ask me, the feature's third act officially lost me in its imagination and realism. Basically, Sophie sets a plan with the BFG to get rid of the other giants by sending a nightmare into the head of the queen. So they together successfully make it past the guards and get the nightmare into the queen's head, following with a scene so atrocious in direction that I am ashamed to place it along with the rest of the movie. Penelope Wilton, the actress portraying the queen of England, put no effort at all into her part, and the entire direction of the scene felt purely uncomfortable and out of place. At least it follows with an amusing if overlong sequence where the queen gladly welcomes the BFG by treating him to a huge breakfast, with a pitchfork and sword substituting for a fork and knife. Thinking back to Spielberg's history of portraying the political system on screen, I expect him to have done more with this historically relevant scenario to make things flow better. Alas, we just can't have the best of both.
It disheartens me a bit to say that not enough was done with this whimsical fairy tale. The "so what" factor falls short compared to simple tales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Pinocchio. But judging by the first two-thirds, the childhood escapism successfully triumphs. It teaches little ones the reward of being a good giant besides a greedy giant, and reminds older readers of these stories' timelessness over hundreds of years. Even today, we still can put ourselves in Little Red's place as she falls deceptive to the wolf's lies. We still see rags-to-riches stories similar to Cinderella's. I would love to see us all to start reading these old tales more frequently, including discussion on how a particularly story spoke to us individually. If we learn not to be afraid of the observant wandering child within us all, then we too can become little friendly people who can live happily ever after.
Overall Grade: C