Movie Review: ‘The BFG’: For Children, Steven Spielberg Is a Big Friendly Giant
The problem with telling a fairy tale nowadays (especially in America) is political correctness.
This does children no good. By taking the teeth out of fairy tales, children are programmed into thinking there are no harsh consequences for bad deeds. Grimm’s fairy tales were grim for good reason! Fairy tales were designed to lay down the law of human morality for children.
Roald Dahl’s 1982 book, “The BFG” (“Big Friendly Giant”) is about giants. Now, giants generally eat humans—remember “Fee, fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman”?
Jack’s blood-sniffing giant, and the Odyssey’s Polyphemus, a giant Cyclops, ate humans. “The Hobbit” trolls were very big, and they were definitely going to have Bilbo for dinner.
Steven Spielberg made a big-budget movie about a modern fairy tale by Roald Dahl who wrote “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and took the teeth out of it, somewhat. But because it’s Spielberg, it’s quite good. In fact, for “chitterins” (giant-speak for children), it’s pretty magical! And it’s actually good he toned down the book. We’ll come back to that.
Once Upon a Time
There was a little girl named Sophie who lived in a Dickensian orphanage, except it’s in London in the 1980s. She’s 10.
Sophie’s a nightowl-let. Like that other nocturnal fairy tale creature, the Scandinavian Tomte who watches over nighttime barn animals, she goes about the orphanage at night, keeping an eye on things, trailing her blanket, and orange tomcat. Sometimes she leans over the balcony and tells the local drunkards to shut up. She’s a very spirited young girl.
One bright moonlit night, looking out the window (she recites the orphanage rules against this, then does it anyway) she spies a massive, shadowy man! Tall as a building! Pretty freaky.
She only sees him accidentally; normally he’s a ninja of nighttime stealth, counting on the fact that humans can’t conceive of a giant in the middle of the city. He hides in building shadows, poses as pine trees, and with the help of his giant cloak and big brass horn, he improvises and jerryrigs many shadowy disguises. This is very fun.
But Sophie saw him! He can’t have that! He grabs her and runs away to the land of the giants, in a bounding run that’s swift, whipping the trees in his jet-wash, which eventually gives way to Hulk-like long-jumping.
Since Sophie’s in London, it logically follows that Giant Country must be somewhere in the north of Scotland. Looks like it. This is all very fun.
Home Sweet Home
The BFG takes her to his country abode, a lovely sort of giant hobbit-hole. It’s got a waterfall-moat with an umbrella drawbridge, and a big bed made out of a pirate-ship.
Like Dumbledore’s bottled memories in the “Harry Potter” books, this big, friendly giant has a library of bottled dreams. That’s his profession, you see. He captures dreams out of Dreamland (where the water runs uphill), which look like multicolored Tinkerbells flitting about.
Then, with a cloak full of bottled dreams, he loads his trumpet-like dream-shooter, and blows dreams into children’s rooms everywhere. That’s his dream work.
He’s sort of a great shepherd, who enlightens children through dream guidance, picking just the right dream from his collection to match the thoughts he’s heard. His giant ears can hear all the sounds of the world, including the thoughts of children.
This is very good work to have, this dream work—my guess is that because Steven Spielberg founded DreamWorks, he feels great kinship with the “BFG.”
But How Come?
How come the Big Friendly Giant doesn’t use a shepherd’s crook instead, and drag children out of their beds and munch on them, since giants are dangerous?
Because he’s a snozzcumber-eating vegan, who looks like a kindly, twinkly-eyed (possibly Amish) distant relative of Jim Carrey’s Count Olaf in “Lemony Snicket!” He just wants to be left alone so he can do his dream works.
His carnivorous giant relations are getting on his last nerve. They start coming around, barging into his underground cabin workshop, trying to locate and eat his new little friend, Sophie. They can smell the chitterin! Like all giants, this crew’s got an exceptionally well-developed sense of smell.
What’s amusing is that, since the sense of smell is what women often successfully use to sniff out truth from lying men (usually to men’s complete bafflement), the sight of hulking, muscle-bound, bearded giants, sniff-sniffing all around BFG’s cabin, is a little bit feminine … and therefore funny.
But let us be clear—BFG’s brethren are seriously bad! The book is really a horror story; a true, unadulterated, dark fairy tale. Giants named Bonecruncher, Meatdripper, Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, and Butcher Boy invade human settlements and gobble children in boarding schools!
Something’s finally got to be done about flesh-eating giants. And just like that, “BFG” suddenly becomes a metaphor for our meat-addicted, planet-destroying times. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves again.
The BFG and the very smart Sophie decide to go talk to the Queen of England (Elizabeth II) about the giant problem plaguing the British Isles.
The scene where the giant meets the queen is exceptionally moving; Spielberg captures an atmosphere of the days of yore, when monarchs were truly considered divine (perhaps because such a giant is, in fact, from days of yore, and knows how to be respectful of ruler-deities).
When the BFG places himself at Her Majesty’s service, if you don’t get a lump in your throat, you’re all kinds of cynical and need to get out of the big city and go live on a farm for a year.
What follows is purely for the little ones; a very Dr. Seuss-like scene in which Buckingham Palace’s waitstaff ransack the palace for breakfast-table utensil substitutes, fit for a giant.
Hair and Makeup
For the BFG, Oscar-winning Mark Rylance was run through the computer, and out came a wonderful, enormous-eared creature, who looks quite a bit like the actor.
The actor’s gentleness, so compelling in “Bridge of Spies,” works perfectly here, saying the endless child-like giant-gibberish words, such as glummy (yummy), rummytot (tommyrot), jiggyraffes (giraffes), and scrumdiddlyumptious (scrumptious).
Also “whizzpopper.” Your children are gonna love the whizzpoppers—trust me. You get whizpoppers from drinking emerald-green fizzy juice made from snozzcumbers, which creates bubbles … that bubble … downward. Beware the whizzpopper.
Sayonara Meat Eaters!
Utilizing what looks to be a collection of the world’s biggest helicopters; the gigantic Mi-26 Halo, the Sikorsky CH-53, the Super Stallion—the air force bags those bad giants, and airlifts them someplace else!
Where there are no humans! Only snozzcumber seeds! Grow a dang garden! Stop meat-eating! Put an end to Cowschwitz! Even burger-loving Bill Clinton became a vegan. Yeah, that means all of us.
A Fairy Tale, Not a Horror Movie
So Spielberg has trod a fine line here. If you write about violence in a fairy tale book and leave it to the children’s imaginations, that’s a holistic, healthy, if bracing, life lesson. That’s good. But if you get all graphic in a film, with violent, bloody, giant chewings of chitterins—well, that’s a horror film. That’s bad. Chitterins can’t be watching that. So Spielberg didn’t put that stuff in.
And what might that life lesson be, about giants? Besides the admonishment to the people of the world that global warming is primarily due to meat eating, and we need to change our diets?
Well in my humbag (humble) opinion, it might be that if you let the small problems of life turn into big ones, and then giant ones, they will eventually eat you. Be afraid of that. Be very afraid.
“The BFG” will give the chitterins a giant life lesson.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Release Date: July 1
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5