Review – The BFG is a BFD (“The BFG”)

In 1982, Roald Dahl, author of such fanciful and fantastic stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, wrote The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant). It was an unimpressive, no-frills kiddies story that had a weird premise and an even weirder ending. Not his best work. A 1989 British animated feature film version of it was just plain awful. Maybe Steven Spielberg can do better?

It’s London, the mid-1980’s, and an insomniac 10-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill debuting here) is wide awake “at the witching hour” of 3am at the orphanage where she lives. Strong-willed, determined, and sometimes even a little rude, she sees something early one morning to make her second-guess everything. A three-story tall giant (Mark Rylance in CGI motion-capture) wearing a cloak and carrying a long trumpet-like thingy has spotted her! Uh-oh! Without warning, this giant grabs her and runs off to his home far away in hidden Giant Country, where he explains to Sophie that he’s just a friendly giant that has a “job” to do.

The BFG’s (Sophie nicknames him this) job, it turns out, is to go to Dream Country and capture dreams from a huge tree, bottle them, and then blow them into the faces of sleeping children. Hey, nice job if you get it. But his life is far from peaceful and happy as he’d like it; he eats terrible looking and tasting snozzcumbers and has to deal with nine other dreadful ‘brother’ giants that are three times bigger than him. Worse yet, those other nasty giants, with names like Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement), Bloodbottler, Bonecruncher, and Childchewer, are all eaters of children, which have been mysteriously vanishing from London.

BFG wants to return Sophie out of safety, but her curiosity and friendship melts his huge heart, so the BFG shows her all the wonders of dream-catching and dream-delivering. But when big trouble with them pesky giants arises, Sophie decides to take giant steps… and go directly to the Queen! In a third act that goes way, way into the realms of pure silliness, her royal majesty (Penelope Wilton), along with Mary (Rebecca Hall), her trusted aide, get a visit from Sophie and the BFG who, after a rather awkward brunch including a green drink called frobscottle, convince the Queen to have the Royal Army and Navy capture the other giants for their foul crimes.

The ending is rather anti-climatic, yet nonetheless whimsical and pulls ever-so-slightly on the heartstrings, much like the tacked-on ending of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Though light-years better than that atrocious 1989 animated version, this nearly 2hr movie is a bit long in the tooth for kids to sit through, given many long and drawn-out scenes. You have to give kudos to the late Melissa Mathison on her final screenplay; she really took Dahl’s so-so book and cranked it up a few notches to make it more interesting than it’s original source material. It’s very exciting when it needs to be and pulls you right into the story.

And then you have the master himself, Steven Spielberg, dishing out his usual cine-magic on the screen with finding excellent Barnhill and filming her like he did Henry Thomas in E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial. The man is just TOO good. Rylance is amazing too, with his CGI mo-cap, which is so freakin’ realistic, it’s scary. All his subtle facial movements are there, breathing life into a computer-animated figure that you’d swear is real.

The Iron Giant (1999)

A kid and their giant friend? Look now further than Mr. Brad Bird. He gave us Pixar’s The Incredible’s, Ratatouille, and Mission Impossible 3, and before he joined the guys at Emeryville he gave us the plucky animated story of a young boy and his giant iron robot.
It’s 1957 and 9-year-old Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal) is a kid living with his single mom, Annie (Jennifer Aniston) in Rockwell, Maine. Unbeknownst to them, a giant robot from outer space has crashed near their home. One day Hogarth sees this creature get electrocuted by power lines that it began to eat and it shuts down the power. After hours of waiting, the robot surprises Hogarth, who soon befriends him. The Iron Giant (voiced by Vin Diesel), suffering amnesia, accompanies Hogarth wherever he goes.
Hogarth takes The Iron Giant (TIG) to see Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick,jr) a junkyard dealer (who’s also sweet for his mom) to help in getting his new friend repaired. Looks like TIG eats metal for nourishment and Dean is none too keen on him eating his iron sculptures.
Meanwhile, Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), an arrogant, ambitious, and paranoid government agent, is on the lookout for the huge metal monster as well. He questions Hogarth on his whereabouts, but the cat’s outta the bag after TIG saves some kids in town and thereby reveals himself. The Army then sees TIG and attacks. This triggers an attack mechanism within TIG, switching him to combat mode. Not good!
TIG returns fire, but Hogarth calms TIG down enough to tell him to fly away…  which he does, but TIG is downed by an F-86 missile. After crashing, TIG thinks an unconscious Hogarth is dead, so he activates his weapons and attacks the outmatched Army. Mansley goes crazy and points a nuclear bomb at TIG! Hogarth wakes, runs into town, and reassures TIG who deactivates his weapons and, in an act of pure unselfishness, flies off into the sky and is blown to smithereens by the nuke… saving everyone else.
The moving epilogue has a shrine built to honor TIG, and a single iron bolt (the only piece found) suddenly starts to move and beep on it’s own. Yes, bits of TIG are alive somewhere in Iceland and are slowly assembling themselves again. Could this mean a sequel? Naw, it never happened and what a pity THAT was!
A sharp screenplay by Tim McCanlies and directed by Brad Bird, it features a different look than your normal animated film. Hip, using some CGI and a nice 2:35 wide-screen format, it certainly isn’t the same as other Warner Bros animated films. Even the storyline is unique, with it’s cold war and anti-guns themes; you don’t see that very often in a kids cartoon. Plus, it’s funny and moving and has the Brad Bird axiom (which is also Pixar’s mantra), “make ’em laugh, make ’em cry”.          

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