Review: The BFG is a Magisterial Mediocrity

Graphic by Mel Egan

By Abby Lass


2.5/5 Stars

On July 1st, Walt Disney Studios and Steven Spielberg’s dream of bringing Roald Dahl’s The BFG to life became a reality with mixed results.

The story follows Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a straight laced insomniac, after she is plucked from an orphanage by the Big Friendly Giant (voiced by Mark Rylance). Together they catch dreams, avoid the bigger giants (voiced most notably by Bill Hader and Jemaine Clement), and drop in on the Queen for breakfast. The film stays relatively true to the source material, with only minor divergences.

Barnhill’s stiffness as an actress could be attributed to the fact that she spends much of the film attempting to sync her actions to those of her computer generated counterpart, but there were several moments when it seemed like a teleprompter might have given a comparable and more cost-effective performance.

Still, she provides a solid foil for Rylance, who, even in CGI giant form, brings a warmth, humanity, and childlike sense of wonder to his character. His youthful giggling, soulful eyes, and swiveling ears provide a truly magical basis for the film. His decision at the end of the film in regards to the rest of his species seem a bit callous as a result, but I suppose that the grisly group got what they deserved.

The more I think about this film, the more I wish it had been entirely animated. Sequences involving solely computer generated surroundings and characters, the dream-catching scene in particular, are absolutely stunning, but all of this visual momentum comes to a screeching halt when the animated and the tangible are forced to interact.

Moments in which Barnhill is forced to maneuver her way through a minefield of giants become a chance for the audience to picture what was going on in the studio while the scene was being filmed. Instead of watching a little girl cowering for her life, we’re thinking about a production assistant offscreen, cuing people to hide and run and scream as necessary. It’s a nearly crippling distraction and a disservice to what could have been a truly outstanding film.

The BFG is fine if you need something to watch with your little cousins, but in the end its impact will be as fleeting as the dreams it depicts.