WHILE STEVEN SPIELBERG’S FIRST GENUINE DISNEY MOVIE CAN’T MISS WITH THE KIDS, IT DOESN’T AIM FOR ANYONE ELSE
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall and Bill Hader
Running Time: 1 Hr., 57 Mins
The secret to a successful family movie is appealing to kids of all ages. Pixar realizes this and Illumination (Universal’s current animation arm) mastered it with the Despicable Me/Minions franchise. The concept and most of the humour should always be a hit with the kids, but there should be plenty for parents to enjoy as well. That’s how movies open with 136 million in their first weekend (like Finding Dory) or gross over a billion dollars worldwide (like Zootopia). The BFG gets half that equation right, and while young kids will probably eat it up, there’s not much for the grown ups.
Video: Disney Movie Trailers
Sophie (Ruby Barnhall) is a fierce and independent little girl who is also desperately lonely living at a London orphanage. One night, after glimpsing a giant (Mark Rylance) wandering the darkened city streets, she’s kidnapped and taken to Giant Country. There she becomes the reluctant guest of the giant she nicknames BFG (short for the big friendly giant). It might not seem that a giant who kidnaps little girls from orphanages in the middle of the night should be called “friendly,” but when you see the other giants-brutish, man eating neanderthals that dwarf BFG-the moniker fits. BFG is actually the runt of the litter (and called so by his giant brethren), an outsider relegated to daily harassment, humiliation and abuse by the other, bigger giants and taking care of their occasional “boo-boos.”
Sophie soon works her way into BFG’s heart and learns the secret of his nightly work (he’s a kind of dream alchemist, collecting and distributing dreams in the dead of night). But as Sophie becomes more and more important to her adopted giant friend, the other giants learn that BFG is harbouring a human child, which happens to be their favourite (and only) dietary selection. The giants soon go on the hunt for tasty children morsels and Sophie and BFG are soon racing against time to find a way to stop them.
BFG preserves the spirit of author Roald Dahl’s classic book by keeping the narrative and imagery tuned to young children’s sensibilities. Everything is geared towards the kids at the virtual exclusion of anyone else. Not only will the visual effects (which are an impressive combination of live action and motion capture CGI) either make the kids squeal in delight or cover their eyes in fear, they’re likely to make them roar with laughter at certain points. There’s plenty of sight gag comedy and the breakfast scene at Buckingham palace will have the kids rolling in the aisles (don’t be surprised if your buying extremely carbonated beverages the next few months).
Beneath the fart jokes and CGI surface though, BFG does flirt with some of Dahl’s darker storytelling ideas. Sophie isn’t the first child companion BFG has had, and it’s implied his first one was eaten (alive) by the other giants. In fact, the reason the other giants are twice BFG’s size and are horrifically twisted bullies is because they eat children (BFG reveals that giants used to be gentle nurturers before most of them developed a taste for children, a taste that mutated and perverted them). And when Sophie and BFG need to recruit help to halt the other giants nightly hunts, one of the things that helps them convince the powers that be to help is a sudden rash of children who have gone missing, eaten by the rogue giants. It’s sort of a contemporary Grimms fairy tale; funny and entertaining on the surface but dark and scary the deeper you go. Odds are the target audience will be too busy laughing at the “whiz poppers” to notice the uglier story layers.
BFG is essentially a visual fairy tale. Unlike other family flicks, while the kids will love it, the sense of wonder doesn’t extend to the adult audience. Its a shame because Steven Spielberg’s resume is full of movies that could bring equal amounts of enjoyment to audiences young and old (E.T., Hook, etc.). BFG is almost purely kindergarten fare, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it will prevent it from reaching the same heights as anything from Pixar or Dreamworks Animation. It is, at best, a pleasant little diversion for the kids during their summer vacation, but it isn’t destined to be a classic.