Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG” is a charming but not quite great film based on the Roald Dahl story about a little girl who is kidnapped by a friendly giant from a London orphanage.
The movie, which is bound to be one of the summer’s biggest hits, is filled with spectacular visual effects and nice messages for families and children.
It centers on the little but plucky orphan Sophie, who dares to stay up past the witching hour, when ghosts and dreamy creatures roam the streets. Played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, Sophie accidentally sees a giant one night, and he knows that he can’t let her stay in London, because she might tell people of his existence. So he plucks her from the bed where she’s hiding and takes her to Giant Country.
As the giant, Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies”) does a fine job, making the creature endearingly dim and lovable. He’s also like Sophie in some ways. In Giant Country, he’s an outcast because he’s not as big as the other giants. And he’s a vegetarian. The other giants like to eat people.
So the Big Friendly Giant has to hide Sophie from the rest of the gang, but they have big noses and can smell her presence.
At first, Sophie keeps trying to escape. But she eventually realizes that she’s found a kindred spirit. In fact, the giant takes Sophie on magical adventures in a place called dreamland, where the BFG captures various types of dreams and keeps them stored in bottles back at his home.
All good things come to an end, though, and when the other giants decide they must find Sophie and be rid of her, Sophie and the BFG hatch a plan: They’ll go visit the queen of England (“Downton Abbey’s” Penelope Wilton) and warn her that the giants might be responsible for the snatching of multiple children across the land. It helps that Sophie and the BFG have a dream about such kidnappings that they can release into the queen’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace.
Once the queen has had her dream, Sophie gets the BFG to reveal himself outside the queen’s bedroom window, and before long, everyone is having breakfast in a grand ballroom. It’s this scene that will probably leave children laughing out loud. It turns out that the BFG has brought along his favorite fizzy drink, where the bubbles go down rather than up. And this causes much flatulence. Yes, the queen takes a sip, and there’s a bit of an unseemly incident.
The aim is to get the queen to launch a raid into giant territory and save England. You can probably guess what happens, especially since this is one of the most beloved children’s tales of modern times.
The optimism, a Spielberg trademark, comes through loud and clear. But there’s something missing emotionally between the giant and the girl. It’s not up to the same level of that in Spielberg’s high popular “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” Then again, most movies can’t match “E.T.” in that regard.
At a news conference in Cannes, where the movie had its world premiere, Spielberg said that the making of “The BFG” brought back feelings he had as a young filmmaker, and he noted that he had read the book to his children when they were growing up. “This is probably the closest I’ve come to telling a love story,” he said.
Starring: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill
Rating: PG, for rude humor, action, scary moments
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter, Alamo Village, Barton Creek, Cedar Park, City Lights, Evo, Galaxy, Gateway, Flix Brewhouse, Hill Country, Lakeline Mall, Metropolitan, Moviehouse & Eatery, Round Rock, Southpark, Stone Hill, Tinseltown, Westgate. 3D: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter, Alamo Village, Barton Creek, Cedar Park, City Lights, Evo, Galaxy, Gateway, Hill Country, Lakeline Mall, Metropolitan, Round Rock, Southpark, Stone Hill, Tinseltown, Westgate.