The BFG

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Quite the jumpsquiffling movie!
★★★
Movie Review #1,070

bfg

Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Adventure, Family, Fantasy. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. Rated PG for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor. Released July 1, 2016. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Melissa Mathison. Based on the book by Roald Dahl. Starring Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, and Bill Hader.

Childhood has maintained a beautiful and nostalgic omnipresence in Steven Spielberg’s cinematic oeuvre. When the man puts kids and their experiences at the forefront, we’re guaranteed an imaginative movie that will, at the absolute least, make us smile. He has a knack for choosing child actors to commit to lead roles. These aren’t actors being actors; they’re kids being kids.

It’s for that very reason that Ruby Barnhill is so significant to making “The BFG” the magical film that it is. Like Cary Guffey in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, Henry Thomas in “E.T.”, or Christian Bale in “Empire of the Sun”, Barnhill invites us into “The BFG” as our inner children, not as out outer selves. Her tale is a fantasy based on the Roald Dahl novel. A young girl named Sophie suffering insomnia, she is snatched from her orphanage early in the morning and brought to Giant Country. The giant who has taken her here earns the nickname BFG from her, standing for “Big Friendly Giant,” and his only purpose for taking her was to keep her from telling the other kids at the orphanage that she had seen a giant walking through the city. It is for the same reason that she cannot go back to the orphanage and must stay in Giant Country. However, she has to be very careful there, because most of the giants are much larger than the BFG, and many eat humans rather than befriending them.

“The BFG” is, yes, a silly story. Perhaps we could have done without the more juvenile elements of the story, such as “whizpoppers,” caused by “Frobscottle,” a soda-like drink the giants enjoy that fizzes downward rather than upward. However, Mark Rylance’s delivery of these Giant-speak terms is impeccably amusing. That’s just one facet of why his performance is so terrific. Rylance gives the BFG a beautiful heart and a terrific voice. He makes this “ugly duckling” story heartwarming and a joy to watch. I have been awaiting his second collaboration with Steven Spielberg since they worked together in “Bridge of Spies” last year. I greatly appreciate Rylance’s performance for not only arriving so soon, but also for grabbing into our emotions just as much as his last performance, albeit in a completely different fashion.

It grows even sillier around the film’s climax, when Sophie and the BFG convince the Queen of England to wage war on the bigger, less friendly members of Giant Country. But it’s this final third of the film that is perhaps the most enjoyable. “The BFG” isn’t perfect. If we compare it with “E.T.”, Spielberg’s only previous family movie, it falters in execution. Perhaps that isn’t a fair comparison, though. We’re not talking bicycling over the moon, but BFG is an enchanting film in its own right. In just the very first scene, as we pan through the corridors of Sophie’s orphanage, the cinematography of Janusz Kaminski and the music of John Williams, either characteristic of a Spielberg film, set up an atmosphere that is both mysterious and enrapturing.

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