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‘The BFG’ review: A faithful translation of Roald Dahl’s book

Mark Rylance, as the giant, and Ruby Barnhill,

Mark Rylance, as the giant, and Ruby Barnhill, as his friend Ruby, in "The BFG." Photo Credit: Disney

PLOT A girl befriends a kindhearted giant who has been shunned by the other giants.

CAST Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton

RATED PG (action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor)

LENGTH 1:57

BOTTOM LINE An often amusing story with a giant heart.

It makes sense that the sensibilities of Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl would someday collide, as they do in Spielberg’s adaptation of Dahl’s “The BFG.” Both artists often tell stories about misunderstood children finding connections with misunderstood, fantastical, alien creatures. They have a knack for drawing out the dark and maudlin aspects of childhood, the loneliness and isolation, as well as the capacity for wonder and amazement, the sheer possibility of anything and everything. That dreamy wonderment is the best part of the filmed “The BFG,” a slow haze that creeps over you unsuspected.

The film is a faithful translation of Dahl’s book, with screenwriter Melissa Mathison ably bringing Dahl’s nonsensical language of the Big Friendly Giant to cinematic life. Oscar winner Mark Rylance wonderfully inhabits the CGI character of the BFG, a gentle giant, the runt of his pack, who spends his time catching dreams and blowing them into bedrooms at night. His hillbilly British accent and creative, “squiggled” word combinations spin you up into Dahl’s inimitable style, honed by Mathison.

Opposite Rylance is the precocious Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, the orphan who spies him from her window at night, and whom he spirits away to Giant Country to keep his secret. The lonely, imaginative and smart Sophie finds an adventure in the BFG, a friend, a protector, and in Sophie, the BFG has something outside of his own curious existence to live for. Theirs is a specific kind of friendship, finite, contained from the outset.

The third act that departs Giant Country for Buckingham Palace is quite funny, but the fish-out-of-water routine goes for broad, easy laughs, and abruptly severs the sense of ethereal incredulity within the world of the giants. Barnhill’s performance starts to feel affected. While Penelope Wilton, Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall are nevertheless charming as The Queen and her entourage, it doesn’t feel of a piece with the rest of the film.

The most effective moments of “The BFG” are the ones that hit home with wistful emotion, but surprise with the possibilities of magic in connections — those moments that Spielberg and Dahl have defined for a generation.

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