Disney’s The BFG is out on Blu-ray and DVD, and while I was a bit late getting my hands on a copy, I thought it was still worth talking about, especially for animation fans, because, while this movie is technically a ‘live-action’ film, like many other (most) Disney live-action-remakes these days, this movie is halfway to being fully animated.
The BFG is about a little orphan girl named Sophie who befriends a Big Friendly Giant, who she affectionately nicknames, the BFG. The problem is, the BFG is only one of many giants who live in Giant Country, and unfortunately, the rest of them aren’t as friendly. Not to mention, as massive as the BFG is, the other giants refer to him as ‘Runt.’
The BFG is a story by Roald Dhal, and as such, it is probably more than a little darker than your standard children’s fare. Like, all the giants are cannibals, darker. Not the BFG of course, but every other giant literally eats children. Off screen of course, this is still technically a movie for kids after all, but the plot revolves around Sophie and the BFG trying to figure out a way to stop the giants from eating all the children around London.
Now, just because the movie has dark themes, does not mean that it isn’t beautiful. Roald Dahl always had a way of mixing the light and dark, and they managed to do this very well in this movie. While all the other giants spend their days eating children, and doing other horrible things, the BFG spends his time collecting and creating dreams to give to children. The scenes where he and Sophie visit Dream Country are just beautiful.
The climax of the film sees Sophie and the BFG heading to Buckingham Palace to convince the Queen of England to help them stop the giants. After some fun around the palace, getting to know the queen and the people that surround her, the pair work with the queen and her army to devise a plan that would expel the giants from Giant Country and keep them from eating anyone ever again.
I actually really enjoyed this movie, for many reasons. I know it didn’t do as well as expected, but for me as a Roald Dahl Fan, I loved that they made one of his lesser known stories into a big-budget film, and I loved that Steven Spielberg was the one to do it.
The BFG is definitely not perfect though, it really seems to drag in the middle, and as beautiful as the dream sequences were, they sometimes seemed to go on a bit too long. I feel like it could have been at least twenty minutes shorter, but even though it’s quite long for a film aimed at kids, it’s definitely not unbearable. Even the most drawn out sequences have something to like about them, and the animation in every scene is just incredible.
This is where we get into the whole, “is it animated or not” debate, (and if that’s a good thing) that has been going on for the better part of a decade, particularly in films where Disney is involved. CGI animation has quickly become a staple effect in most films, but Disney has pushed it so far that in films like The BFG, there is so much animation that it’s almost impossible to tell what’s animated and what’s not. The animation in The BFG isn’t as all-encompassing as it was in, say, The Jungle Book, but there are quite a few scenes that I am willing to bet were almost, if not completely animated.
Part of me thinks this is a great thing. I love seeing how far animation has come and how much they can do with it. Like I said, it’s really amazing to watch what they have done with it in this film. That being said, it does get a bit harder to connect with, or care about characters that are completely CGI creations, no matter how well-done they are. The BFG himself was a little easier to care about, partially becasue I think they made sure to make his face look as close to human as possible, but, at least for me, in the case of the other giants, no matter how amazingly they were animated, I really had a hard time caring about them, as characters or threats. I think this was partially because they weren’t real people, despite the fact that they were created using motion capture. As great as they were animated, I still think it could have been better if they had found a way to use the real actors themselves.
That being said, no matter which side of the animated debate that you fall on, you have to admit that it is amazing in this movie. From the beautiful Dream Country, to the hideous giants, the animation in every scene is just astounding. Mark Rylance as the BFG, Jermaine Clement as Fleshlumpeater, Bill Hader as Bloodbottler, among many of the other actors doing motion capture were obviously amazing, but the animators who brought these characters to life definitely deserve half the credit here. These are fully realized CGI creations, and they interact with the human characters seamlessly.
Speaking of which, the casting for this movie was pretty much picture perfect. There were so many talented people in this film that I don’t have time to name them all.
First of all, we have Mark Rylance, who was the perfect choice for the BFG. I am not very familiar with his work, but he exudes such a caring warmth, in every scene, which was absolutely essential for his character. While the BFG is a completely CGI creation, Rylance was still able to emote everything needed through just his voice. Yes, I’m sure there was motion capture employed for his facial expressions, but his voice just absolutely sells how caring this giant is.
Ruby Barnhill, who plays Sophie, did an absolutely amazing job. I had never heard of her before this movie, but she is one of the most talented child actors I’ve seen in a while. She doesn’t currently have many acting credits to her name, but I have a feeling that she’ll be going on to amazing things in the future.
And my final mention absolutely has to be Penelope Wilton as Queen Elizabeth II. I have loved Penelope Wilton ever since she played Harriet Jones MP in the two-part Doctor Who story, Aliens of London/World War Three. She is such an amazing actress, and was absolutely perfect for the role of the queen. She perfectly portrays warm and commanding at the same time, and brings so much to a role that could have been nothing more than a silly caricature.
(Side note, it wasn’t until I started writing this review that it hit me that Penelope Wilton was playing the queen who is still ruling today! If she saw it, I wonder how the real queen felt about the rather undignified ‘Whizzpopping’ scene.)
The Extras are always one of the most important parts of any DVD/Blu-ray for me, so I was excited to see what kind of extras we would get on this one. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we had some quite substantial featurettes!
Bringing the BFG to Life
Part video diary, part behind the scenes documentary, Ruby Barnhill’s ‘vlogs’ tie together this rather extensive look at the production of the movie. Ruby is charming as always, and the behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew are actually very informative! This is pretty much everything I wanted to know, and more, about what went into making The BFG!
The Big Friendly Giant and Me
A simply animated short story about the BFG’s adventures with the human bean, that lived with him before Sophie. It is told from the perspective of the human, which becomes a bit sad and/or morbid, when you remember that this child was in all likelihood, eaten by the other giants. It kind of ruined that one for me.
Gobblefunk: The Wonderful Words of The BFG
A cute little featurette about the way the BFG speaks. It’s amusing, but a bit pointless. At least for me. It is obviously aimed at kids, and since it goes on a bit too long about the word ‘Whizzpopper,’ I’m sure they’ll be quite a bit more amused than I was.
After the last feature, I assumed that this would be another kid-friendly short looking at the different giant characters. I was wrong! This was actually a really interesting look at how they brought the giants to life, With interviews with everyone who played the giants, to the movement coach, to Steven Spielberg.
This featurette is also the one that inspired me to really question the use of CGI for the giant characters. As amazingly as they were brought to life, I absolutely loved seeing the performances of the actors behind the scenes, even in their spandex motion capture suits. They were so much fun to watch that I realized how much of their performances had been lost in the translation to the CGI characters. Again, I’m not knocking the CGI, I think it was amazing, I just wish there were a better middle ground.
Melissa Mathison: A Tribute
This is exactly what it says in the title, a tribute to the screenwriter of the movie, Melissa Mathison, who died in 2015, before the release of The BFG, which ended up being dedicated to her memory. This was a rather touching little feature, as the crew recall working with her, many of whom, including Steven Spielberg, had worked with her for many years.
This film, while not perfect, is a very well-done adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s books. It has a wonderful cast, and spectacular imagery; and while it does tend to drag on a little in the middle, I’d still highly recommend it for any Roald Dahl fan. The Blu-Ray set is the perfect way to watch it, not just for the movie, but also for the extensive BTS documentary featurettes that they have included. They went further into production than I expected them to, which was a welcome surprise for me, and they made me appreciate the film even more.