3 out of 5 stars (average)
The BFG is a unique family movie in choosing to focus on the relationship between its title character (voiced by Mark Rylance) and human girl Sophie (Newcomer Ruby Barnhill) rather than have an action-oriented narrative (as it has sadly been advertised). At the time of this writing, the film has made a measly $7 million at the box office, while trigger-happy releases The Legend of Tarzan and The Purge: Election Year are seeing happier business. It makes me sad to see a more old-fashioned film like this be shunned by the public seemingly because it isn’t a “traditional” summer movie. I love action movies, but I appreciate a film that can tell a good story with memorable characters at the expense of violence. If you feel similarly, then The BFG will surely satisfy you.
The movie wastes no time getting us into Giant Country, populated by, of course, giants. However, while most of the beasts would like nothing more than to eat children, one is only seeking a friend, as he is ostracized by the others. He journeys to London in the night and kidnaps an orphan named Sophie and, after the expected “holy lord, I was kidnapped by a giant” shock wears off, Sophie realizes that this giant, like her, is lonely and only wants a friend. The two bond and eventually decide that they must stop the other giants from stealing and eating other children, utilizing rather unexpected means to do so.
The visuals in this film are marvelous. Mark Rylance brings an unexpected warmth and innocence to the title character that makes him easy to sympathize with. He also resembles George Bush, but skinnier and less controversial. Rylance utilized motion-capture for his performance, a process where an actors’ facial expressions and physical movements are recorded onto a computer and placed on a CG creation later, and it is some of the best work I’ve seen with the technology. Giant Country looks great as well, though we don’t explore very much of it. The other giants are more menacing and cartoony, but the computer work is fine there as well.
The human actors are surprisingly strong here, especially Ruby Barnhill. Most of the movie is spent with her and the BFG conversing, so her performance would make or break the film. She seemed decent enough in the beginning, but her performance vastly improved as the film progressed. There are other human actors in the film later on, who also provide good performances. I cannot imagine the difficulty of acting off of thin air, but they all pulled it off. Downton Abbey fans will also be pleased to see Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley) portraying a down-to-earth Queen of England.
Lastly, the film has wonderful and empowering messages for children. Standing up against bullies, not judging a book by its cover, and the importance of friendship are all expressed with subtlety rarely seen in modern children’s films. Nothing feels forced or plot-convenient, instead flowing organically into the narrative. Like all Roald Dahl stories, the film teaches valuable life lessons to children without talking down to them, something that more authors should be mindful of.
Despite all of these qualities, I had some minor problems with the film. First and foremost is the pacing. We are whisked away to Giant Country by the 3-minute mark, barely getting to know Sophie before she begins her adventure and being asked to suspend our disbelief. The rest of the film is much slower, focusing on the relationship between Sophie and the BFG. I found their relationship interesting, but children accustomed to big action set pieces will be disappointed. The climax seemed somewhat underwhelming. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it happens so quickly that it barely had time to register with me. Again, the kids in my audience didn’t seem to mind, as they were entertained by BFG’s odd speaking pattern and movements.
The BFG is a warm, family-friendly fantasy that should win people over with its memorable protagonists, character-driven story, and important messages. If you haven’t seen Finding Dory yet, then see that. But if you have and are searching for another family outing, see The BFG
Rated PG for Action/Peril, Some Scary Moments (the other giants bully BFG a little bit, but he eventually stands up for himself), and Brief Rude Humor