Disney is a company responsible for bringing an emphasis of magic and wonderment to a gargantuan number of people since their inception. Their movies have a tendency to charm moviegoers of all ages with their signature brand of high-quality animation and innocent whimsy. If there’s one thing Disney movies always had going for them, it’s the spirit of the journey, the adventure into the unknown, which would inevitably change the characters within. As years have gone by, they’ve stuck with this structure through thick and thin—though mostly thin, as their films are still regarded as high quality in most facets. However, time is a heavy judgment, and while this emphasis of wonderment is fine on its own, some would come to expect time to encourage Disney to evolve this concept in more unique ways. With a director such as Steven Spielberg, there was encouragement that The BFG would be little more than “standard” Disney fluff. Of course, one can’t expect the director to change the course of where the movie wishes to travel.
Adapted from Roald Dahl’s book of the same name (sans the acronym), The BFG begins with a little girl in an orphanage, dilly-dallying in the dead of night. She gets the sudden urge to do exactly what she’s told not to do (Kids, am I right?) and looks out the window of her bedroom, only to come across a giant, looming shadow in the distance. In a flash, the figure swoops in and takes the girl from her “home” and travels far into the distance, an environment unknown to most humankind. With hardly a thought to be had, she’s taken into the giant’s lair, danger staring her down with its ugly mug. However, this giant seems to have no interest in eating her, and even goes as far as preventing her from facing further danger. Who exactly is this, ahem, big, friendly giant?
As for my own experience, I have never read the original novel, and have very vague memories of the animated 1989 film. Going into this film was technically nostalgic, as a few particular scenes from the ’89 film rung familiar while watching this version. I wonder how much of this was really written by Roald Dahl, and how much was decided to be cut. There were some rumblings from critics about making the story not as dark, which only saddens me, as the film could’ve used some more grim situations. Even so, the film has some indication of rehashes and shortcuts, leaving a lot to be desired with trying to fill in each and every hole that’s been left behind.
The BFG is among the more nonsensical plots of Disney’s line-up. Not for the inclusion of giants and tangible dreams, but in the sense that the movie plays by its own rules and expect the viewer to mindlessly go with it. This is emphasized by the number of gobbledygook present within the giant’s speech and the charm of the unknown world, but there’s a lot of things that are supposedly very important that are immensely far-fetched. Critical plot points and resolutions happen by some kooky circumstance and don’t have that impact that one would expect with a decent sense of immersion. Some of this is from a lack of said realism, while also due to another major flaw within The BFG.
Films are typically forgiven for their lack of responsibility as a story so long as they give the viewer a definitive aura of entertainment. The BFG is a long, steady line from beginning to end. Never shifting, never moving. Not a single turn, obstruction, bump. Everything feels so by-the-numbers that it may as well be a different movie with a different skin. Things happen without any cause, and it affects the focus of the viewer. Or perhaps more accurately, the critical viewer. I don’t doubt that an average viewer would immediately eat this film up, seeing as it has every sprinkle of Disney’s fairy dust littered over every crack, but the cracks are large and foreboding to those not willing to ignore them. The film is, with all due respect, boring. It can’t seem to find any sort of hold within its core to really grasp the viewer’s attention other than the tired “Imaginary world for the ordinary hero” trope. There is no splendor—hardly any imagination to go along with it.
What is does have in its favor (debatably the only thing) is Disney studios’ signature animation, which is nearly flawless. The hollow feeling is at least glossy and complexly stylized. The giant, along with all the other giants, are amazingly realistic, as if they aren’t CGI whatsoever. Their land, while fairly barren, has a nice feeling of a grassy plainlands. The garbage and familiar items discarded within is a nice touch, implying that humankind was present to some extent over the last few millennia. The darkness and eerie scenes don’t leave much of an impression, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Even the fart jokes look impressive (Though they really, really shouldn’t be here). Unfortunately, the overall animation doesn’t do much for the quality of the film aside from its own establishment. I suppose this is a good film for aesthetics.
One of the integral elements of the original story was the friendship between the little girl, Sophie, and the BFG. This film has some elements of this attached to it, however there is some cause for concern. Sophie is a child, so her instincts are arguably ill-fitted to the situation, as is evidenced by her tendency to bicker with drunken men in the streets and moving around in dangerous situations when she should probably just sit still. She has an astute spirit that is suited for the frail and timid BFG, who is the subject of bullying by the other giants. However, a lot of their development as friends happens by circumstance rather than intentionally. One could argue that the time spent together is enough to warrant some trust in one another, though I wonder whether or not this is due to the “F” in BFG and the age of the little girl. Whether or not this all really matters is debatable. I don’t believe chemistry between these two characters is present within The BFG. If anything, they’re together for the sake of being together.
One other thing that is worth noting is the missed opportunities that take place within the runtime. Sophie lives in an orphanage, she has no parents, and complains that the caretakers are too strict. She even asks if the BFG had any parents (to which he replies, “No,” which makes zero sense). Why is the subject of a family and a place of belonging never brought up? These two examples are shadows of what could’ve been another point to drive the development of these two together. To characterize their relationship as a father and daughter figure, rather than just friends. I expected this to become important at some time, only to view the end credits without it ever being mentioned again. Why not give it a shot? It would do something for this lax attempt at bonding.
Disney is still at the top of their game for what seems like three-hundred years. Even if I disagree, critics seem to embellish the company with heaps of praise for whatever they seem to put out. Not only that, but they’re typically good moneymakers as well. Unfortunately for The BFG, it was one of Disney’s rare flops at the box office, making a putrid (by Disney standards) 18.7 million dollars in its first weekend. Perhaps its a sign that not everything Disney touches is a moving masterpiece, and after seeing it myself, I almost don’t blame people for not going to see it, unaware as they were. It leaves a lot to be questioned about what Disney expects from its movie-making. A classic case of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Whether or not this has any effect on people’s expectations would result in a BFA: a big, friendly argument.
Final Score: 3.5/10
One thought on “The BFG Review”
While I haven’t seen the film, most of the issues you’ve raised are probably by-products of the subject matter being adapted. While the BFG is a fun read it doesn’t exactly have depth and the relationship between the girl and the giant never makes a great deal of sense. I hadn’t planned on seeing this movie given the BFG was one of my least favourite of Dahl’s works and having read this I’m now pretty happy with that decision.