If you’re looking for a summer movie in which the Queen of England suffers uncontrollable flatulence, The BFG is for you.
For everyone else, there’s not much to recommend here. It’s Spielberg’s weakest movie since Hook. Like that film, it tries to give some adult resonance to a children’s story but fails at both.
Ruby Barnhill, in her film debut, is as adorable as child actors come, and her vivid imagination recalls Roald Dahl’s other heroine Matilda. She’s an orphan who believes in magic, despite her bleak life. But she’s captured almost instantly by the BFG (played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance, who’s terrific). There’s no time for her to develop as a character. We are just supposed to be instantly taken with her, without the movie earning any of that attachment.
Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison didn’t have this problem when they collaborated on E.T., which remains the gold standard for movies about lonely kids bonding with fantastical creatures. That bond was incredibly strong and felt very real.
But the core of The BFG never quite gets there. Instead of serving as a springboard for deeper themes, this is a movie that’s faithful to a fault. Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers took the 40 pages of Where the Wild Things Are and spun it into a heartbreaking coming-of-age story. But this movie has no such lofty ambitions.
By the time the film moves from Giant Country to the actual Buckingham Palace, where the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and many of her staff find themselves in serious need of some Gas-X, the movie has descended into grab of crude jokes and weak slapstick. While the kids in the audience found the breakfast scene delightful, I found it grinded the film to a screeching halt. And the film’s bombastic climax is extremely brief. By this point, it’s been non-stop CGI. Only a handful of human actors ever even appear on the screen. Of course, effects-heavy movies can be truly moving, but that connection has to be there. And unlike the BFG himself, it’s not strong.