“The BFG” finds Steven Spielberg working in a familiar realm, crafting a fairy tale based on beloved 1980s literature and scripted by the late Melissa Mathison, who wrote “E.T.”
It’s such a comfortable fit in terms of the filmmaker and his body of work, marking the first film he’s directed under the Disney banner, that it can occasionally feel less-than-inspired.
Still, Spielberg’s take on Roald Dahl’s classic book, about a young London orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) who is snatched away to Giant Country by the title figure (Mark Rylance) after she spots him late one night, stands out because it stakes out terrain that is resolutely against the snarky, self-referential style of storytelling that has consumed family filmmaking these days.
Put another way, you don’t feel like Spielberg’s trying to sell you anything, beyond a rewarding dramatic experience. And the movie largely delivers on that front, existing primarily as a poignant ode to an unlikely and meaningful friendship.
There’s a genuinely sweet quality to the chemistry between Rylance, giving a motion-capture performance that would make Andy Serkis proud, and newcomer Barnhill. Spielberg concentrates on their faces and constructs most of the movie’s dramatic moments around scenes that illustrate the depth of their connection.
So when the other, bigger and meaner giants try to capture and eat Sophie, the most affecting drama is derived out of the BFG’s efforts to stand up to them. When the BFG and Sophie travel to the land where swirling, sparkling dreams are captured and bottled,
the impressionistic CGI wows but the love between these characters carries the day.