Entire family: Yes (with a caveat)
2016, 117 min., Color
Rated PG for action, peril, some scary moments, and brief rude humor
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Decades from now, film historians may refer to 2016 as a milestone year for Disney—the year the studio entered a new age in producing live-action/animated fantasy adventures, with The Jungle Book coming out in April, The BFG premiering in July, and Pete’s Dragon debuting in August. All three films are impressive for kicking it up a notch in creating convincingly realistic CGI creatures that seamlessly interact with actors in real-life settings.
But the films aren’t equally successful. The runaway leader of the pack was the remake of the 1967 Kipling adaptation of Mowgli’s adventures, with the remake of the 1977 live-action/animation musical-comedy featuring Elliot the dragon close behind. Less successful is The BFG, which producer-director Steven Spielberg adapted from the Roald Dahl book. Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T.) chose to stay reasonably close to the structure of the original book, trusting that the special effects and the magical world described by Dahl and rendered by them would be enough to sustain audiences. And it is . . . until a talky first act with a giant dose of giant gibberish starts to get a little old. Interest picks up mid-way when the giant and child companion offer to help the Queen solve Britain’s disappearing children problem, but a third act pushes toward a tidy fabulist ending that almost feels anticlimactic. In other words, E.T. it’s not.
This is a PG-rated family film, though in true Fee-fi-fo-fum fashion a gang of bully giants bigger than the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) apparently EAT children, which they call “beans.” Not the BFG, though. He likes children, which is why he grabs young orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and transports her from London to the land of giants. It’s also why he shares with her his dream collection and takes her with him to harvest new dreams.
As gentle as this giant is, the whole giants-eating-kids thing and what amounts to a kidnapping might be upsetting to some children, especially since the giants look so gosh-darned real. Their skin, their movement, their hair and facial expressions all look as palpable as anything in the actual world. Though Disney has been making blends of animation and live action since The Reluctant Dragon was released in 1941, this year really does mark a new level of CGI achievement . . . or maybe usage is the more appropriate word. Walt Disney used to let perfection be his guide, not cost, and it’s in that spirit that today’s Disney studio operatives have applied CGI techniques normally reserved for sure-fire summer blockbusters to lesser films, so that they are now the new norm. The exception has become the rule, and what was once clearly an animation is now sometimes difficult to tell.
With The BFG, it helps to be a Dahl fan. The average person may be momentarily charmed by the fabricated language the giant speaks—things like “Troublehumper,” “Skitter scatter, boys,” “How absolutely squiffling,” “My little frogglefrump,” and “Bugwinkles!”—but it can grow old. Same with the relentless whimsical background score by John Williams, the overly long sequences and the characters themselves. I suspect that younger viewers—the main audience for this one—will wish for more action scenes with the gang of giants and fewer sequences with just the girl and the BFG. It’s when more characters are involved that this film perks up.
Even then, as my teenage son said, any Disney film that resorts to gibberish and farting humor (in Disney’s defense, it’s in the book!) doesn’t deserve a good grade. The BFG falls in the cracks somewhere between a C and a B. It’s the kind of film you appreciate for its technical wizardry but maybe don’t like as much as you think you should.