While it may not be as put together as most critics would have liked, it will capture the attention of parents and children and that’s what you want from a film like this.
A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kind-hearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.
There’s nothing quite like having two outcasts for main characters that find each other through random happenstance and that eventually improve each other’s lives. This movie was built to make the smaller, out of place individuals in life feel like they belong somewhere. Endearing through dialogue, visuals and silliness, The BFG was built to please everyone. Well, almost everyone (critics were mixed about it).
With that said, let’s get right down to the review.
First and foremost, the mix of animation and live action were well done in this film. Spielberg and crew took great care of mixing the lot together and came out with a visual masterpiece that surpasses the efforts of movies prior that mixed the both the live and animated worlds. He took great care to make sure that placement of live actors was correct and would fit perfectly into the animated world of the giants. In addition, the facial movement, structure and overall appearance of the animated giant scenes weren’t as out of place and ‘hokey’ as one might assume. The giants were definitely noticeably animated, but the separation between live actors and animated giants wasn’t too far off from each other. The skin textures, eye movement and expressions of the animated beings was a spot on image of what a real human being might look like do. Even down to the odd lingo that the giants spoke were masterfully created to replicate the dialogue delivered through face movements and proper lip enunciation. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s incredibly valuable when you’re trying to sell the imaginary creatures. That was a huge hurdle for the entertainment value of The BFG to really shine through. You sell the creatures and the world, then the rest is easy.
That said, I’m not sure the visuals were a real issue with the film when it comes to critic opinion. The real issue was probably that most critics felt that the movie used non-traditional methods of storytelling. Spielberg pulls this out of the box way to tell The BFG story with warped and imbalanced structure to the standard three-act play that most of us covet and hold against films when reviewing them. In addition, this structure is very prevalent in most family/kid films, which creates expectation in story construct when judging movies in this genre. Spielberg seems almost unapologetic about straying from this standard, from the film’s start to finish, and relies only on the sole intention of the audience bonding with the characters he presents from Roald Dahl’s story and patience for allowing him to play everything out the way he thought it should properly play out. I can dig that and I certainly respect that, as sometimes going off the beaten path that we’re all used to can provide wonderful movie experiences. And thus is the case with The BFG.
Now, let’s break down those acts.
The first act of the film gives us a solid, yet quick introduction to Sophie, who is an orphaned girl that knows more about the night life of London than she probably should. She is constantly, at least in the beginning, in a panicked state of knowing that there is a witching hour and things that go bump in the night usually come out during it. Staying up beyond her bedtime, she ends up proving herself right, as she catches a glimpse of a giant walking around. Sadly, she is quickly snatched by the giant, who is also panicked, to keep his secret of his race’s existence safe from further prying eyes. Whisked back to the giant’s lair, Sophie is quickly introduced to the life of a giant outcast through her new friend BFG.
The first act is quick and it does its job. Spielberg’s mastery unfolds in how he seamlessly tells his tale onscreen through brief moments of assumptions and gorgeous imagery that plays on a bit of fear, but mostly goodhearted intentions. I really enjoyed how all major players were developed and introduced so quickly. Spielberg did a fantastic job of making sure we didn’t waste much time on exposition, but at the same time tackles a heavy amount of silent exposition through his visuals. Credit Melissa Mathison’s writing on helping this all happen so well and so fast, as the first act is fun and sets the tone for the rest of the film.
The second act introduces the crux of the issue in the movie — bigger giants with huge appetites. The threat of being eaten by the other giants is prevalent through the second act with a touch of humor and banter between Sophie and BFG injected from the beginning to the end of act two. The second act spends a large amount of time establishing a better relationship between the two protagonist characters, creating a give and take relationship between BFG and Sophie. You get to see Sophie’s fearless, yet helpful personality to better the life of BFG and get him to overcome fears, such as his fear with the bigger giants. In return, BFG reveals a bigger, more magical world to Sophie through his work to capture and inject dreams into the minds of London’s residents. Towards the end of act two the antagonists rear their heads again, which initiates the downfall of the film’s story — giants want to find more people like Sophie and eat them (people in London). The urgency to convince BFG to talk to the Queen in London and prevent this horrible act from occurring is what is introduced at the end of act two.
The second act is long. It’s huge. It’s packed with a lot of plot points that work together, but their abundance is a lot to keep up with, especially for a younger audience. The issue of Sophie’s presence in the giant’s land, BFG’s need to keep dreams alive and kicking, as well as capturing them, and the giant plot point of the other giants wanting to eat London’s residents is a lot to resolve in a short amount of time. It’s a juggling act and a ton to wrap in act three.
Act three finds a way to tie everything top perfectly.
It really does wrap things up in a beautiful way, but it does it in an unconventional way — it takes its time. It’s an odd structure for a family film, but the production simply doesn’t care. It does what it wants, it creates silly scenarios as it sips tea and figures out the best way to finish off the story. It’s brilliant, meaningful, fun, but at the same time understandably uncomfortable for critics to see unfold. People want things to end the way they should. They want to think that acts have a certain amount of time to wrap up and that anything more or less equals out to the story losing its way. Thankfully, the time given to wrap act three up is perfect for the audience that is viewing it. My kids were glued to the television from beginning to end, even during the scary parts (and they exist). Again, I can see why critics panned this a bit, but I can honestly tell you they couldn’t be more wrong. This movie is built for kids, acts like a kid taking their time making a decision, while at the same time amusing those awaiting resolution, and is just pure fun.
Bravo, Steven Spielberg. Glad you made this one and took your time with it. The story is far more magical because of this patience.
Overall, The BFG is certainly flawed in standard storytelling structure, but it’s perfect with its sincerity to entertain. If you’re a parent, then you’ll want this in your library.
On the special features side of the tracks, here’s what you’re getting:
– Bringing “The BFG” to Life
– The Big Friendly Giant and Me
– Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG
– Giants 101
– Melissa Mathison: A Tribute
Not as much as what you would normally find on a Disney release, but nonetheless plenty of things to like here.