The BFG seemed to capture children’s interest and attention in the screening I attended, and there was applause at the end. Noises I heard from kids during the film seemed more like they were engaged and involved rather than restless, despite the almost-2-hour production. I got the impression they were following the BFG’s malapropisms as well or better than the adults.
The story by the beloved author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and made into a screenplay by Melissa Mathison (ET), tells about an orphan named Sophie (Barnhill) who spies a giant outside her window late at night, and because he is concerned that she will tell others about him, he snatches her. It turns out that he is a dream catcher who plants dreams into those who are fast asleep—good dreams mostly, but, if needed, bad dreams. Unfortunately, he lives in the Land of Giants, many of whom are much bigger than he, and they bully him. The well socialized Sophie, who comes to like and respect the BFG, is then incensed by the oafish giants and devises a plan whereby the Queen of England would rally her forces to capture the giants who are known to see children as delectable treats.
The idea of capturing and planting dreams is appealing, and is one of the highlights/mainstays of the film. The current technology shows vivid images of dreams, BFG’s “factory” for creating/mixing dreams that can be infused into a sleeper’s brain, and the noble uses for dream infusion. I applaud introducing the concept to children with the thought that it could be a very useful fantasy for them to use in making choices in their lives.
Director Steven Spielberg has sustained his child-like wonder in making films meant to inspire young people of all ages and offer them stories for their moral and ethical development. His engagement of John Williams for music, Janusz Kaminski for cinematography and Rick Carter for production design are creatively wise choices.
In this production, I was mesmerized by Mark Rylance’s portrayal of the BFG. We now know from his performances in Bridge of Spies, Wolf Hall, and other productions that he is a consummate actor who conveys innumerable expressions with his face and voice. In this, it was delightful to see that in CGI and motion capture we could still see Rylance, especially in his pixie-like face, his eyes, and smile. His range is noticeable from the spy character he portrays in Bridge of Spies to here in the BFG. Those two characters couldn’t be further apart. And it’s a little bit strange how his goodness shines through so well, we are prepared to root for him as a German spy.
Strangely, Ruby Barnhill as Sophie did not carry the same weight, even though currently, child actors tend to be phenomenal. Somehow, the actress does not elicit much fascination with the Sophie character, or maybe it’s simply the script. I think that part of the problem is that the character Sophie is a bit obnoxious in her behavior and attitude (which may come from Dahl’s story), so it may not be a casting issue, but has to do with the story itself.
I think most children will enjoy and benefit from this fanciful tale.