A precocious orphan girl Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), whose
habit of staying awake at night to read leads her to see the giant
called Runt (Mark Rylance) walking around the city. To prevent her from
revealing his existence, he abducts her and takes her to his cave home
in Giantland. Though a towering figure as far as Sophie is concerned,
and with huge ears that allow him to hear every sound in the world, Runt
is considerably smaller than his fellows, who bully him mercilessly.
He’s also a vegetarian, while the others regularly go off into the human
world to seize children to serve as their repasts. And thanks to an
earlier guest, a human boy, Runt is more articulate than the other
giants, though his language is littered with malapropisms and floridly
goofy terminology that is sometimes in need of translation.
Naturally Runt and his sort-of prisoner bond, and he protects her
from his hungry neighbors. He also introduces her to his job catching
dream-matter—shimmering clusters of colored light called
“phizzwizards”—which he keeps in bottles and then pushes in varied
combinations into a huge trumpet, with which he then literally blows the
product into the heads of sleeping humans. And one of those he will
cause to have a particular dream, at Sophie’s instigation, is none other
than the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton). The vision is designed to show the monarch that the recent
disappearance of English children is the work of the carnivorous giants
and that she should, with Runt’s assistance, take measures to remove
them to a place where they will never be able to endanger youngsters
There are moments in The BFG that achieve a modicum of enchantment.
The sequence in which Runt and Sophie pass through a glistening pool
to reach the upside-down region where the proto-dreams dart about as
Runt tries to catch them with a net, like a lepidopterist collecting
butterflies, is charming, and the images in the kindly giant’s workshop,
where those he’s nabbed are kept in bottles that glow with their
radiance, are lovely. The sight of Runt skulking about the London
streets also has a creepy elegance.
The grand welcome that Runt and Sophie receive at the royal palace,
courtesy of not only the Queen but of her sweet secretary Mary (Rebecca
Hall) and oh-so-proper butler Tibbs (Rafe Spall), takes the film into
farcical Monty Python territory, and that works as well, due not merely
to the serenely nonplussed attitude of the assembled bigwigs and the
oversized table and chair constructed for the giant, but the
introduction of Runt’s favorite beverage, frobscottle, which induces a
round of whizpopping, or happy flatulence in the form of green mist.
This sequence is veddy British, but then so is Runt’s loony patois,
which is amusing, especially in the moody way Rylance delivers it,
though does go on.
Otherwise, however, the movie, while pleasant enough, is rather lumbering. That’s partially due to Runt’s deliberate gait, but
also to the sedate pacing that director Steven Spielberg, and editor Michael Kahn prefer;
this is by no means an energetic movie. Williams’ soupy score, ladled
on with a trowel, also bogs things down. The most serious defect,
however, has to do with the other giants, with names like
Fleshlumpeater, Bonecruncher, Butcherboy, Childchewer and Maidmasher.
Of the bunch only the first two, voiced by Jemaine Clement and Bill
Hader, are consequential, with Fleshlumpeater, who’s equipped with a
particularly sensitive nose, proving the most intrusive and bullying.
While parents will probably appreciate that the movie doesn’t show the
creatures actually feasting on the children they snatch, the mere
implication that they do might unnerve some smaller viewers. More
important, though, is the fact that the giants aren’t given interesting
personalities; they’re just a bunch of drooling, bumptious goons, and
it’s difficult even with a vivid imagination to accept that they could
invade the human world and carry off anybody without being seen. After
all, Ruby catches Runt on his peregrinations.
Nonetheless The BFG is likable, though not magical, and a decent
alternative to more antic, frenzied children’s fare.