Coming in the year that would have marked Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, a big-budget Hollywood reimagining of one of the literary legend’s most popular and personal stories seems, on paper, the perfect way to celebrate his life and introduce his work to new audiences around the world. However, the nature of nostalgia is such that simply updating a classic with 21st century computer-generated bells and whistles is no surefire route to success (just ask those involved in the 2005 cinematic reboot of The Magic Roundabout). In the case of The BFG, there are effectively two well-loved pre-existing works to contend with: Dahl’s original storybook (and the delightful Quentin Blake illustrations within), and the 1989 made-for-TV animation, which starred the vocal talent of David Jason.
Undeniably, cutting-edge vitality becomes apparent first and foremost, thanks to the sheer quality of the groundbreakingly impressive visual effects on display in this new version. While the artistry used to translate a masterful turn by Mark Rylance into an utterly believable personification of Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant in particular feels like a new benchmark, the standard of CGI is sky-high throughout. Following the journey of bookish and headstrong young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) from the drab confines of a London orphanage to the BFG’s workshop in faraway Giant Country, the film brings its audience into a beautifully realised world of wonders. As the pair’s friendship blossoms, it’s a challenge not to be distracted from the story by such details as gargantuan alien vegetables and glittering jars full of dreams (harvested by the BFG to be blended and planted into the minds of children back in the world of the “human beans”).
The cinematography is never so overwhelming as to drown out Dahl’s genius however, and the BFG’s endearingly discombobulated trademark language (which might describe a zoo as containing “crockadowndillies” and “hippodumplings”) remains a star in itself. While the narrative – in which the larger, dastardly child-eating giants that bully our hero are ultimately vanquished – is rather slight, it’s timeless charm keeps it rattling along at an entertaining pace to the end.
Charged with the tricky task of creating an update that feels both fresh and respectful of its dearly-cherished source material, director Steven Spielberg, supported by a team of tech wizards, has delivered an absolute whizz-popper (which is a good thing).
The BFG is released nationwide on 22nd July 2016.
Watch the trailer for The BFG here: