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Rylance (left) and Barnhill star in The BFG, a visually stunning adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1982 children's book of the same name.

Can't go wrong with Spielberg, Dahl and Disney

Aug 19, 2016 5:50 AM

IT'S great to see Steven Spielberg rediscovering his inner child after years of dabbling in serious historical drama with The BFG, a visually stunning adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1982 children's book about the unlikely friendship between a little girl and the titular Big Friendly Giant.

The latter is wonderfully brought to life by actor Mark Rylance - reuniting with Spielberg after his Oscar-winning performance in last year's Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies - through a magical mix of motion capture effects and CGI.

His expressive voice lends the character a realistic human quality despite it being made up of pixels and conjured with Disney's brand of cutting-edge animation wizardry.

It's so convincing that the chemistry between him and child actress Ruby Barnhill, who plays the child the giant initially kidnaps, feels warm; and the pair become the heart and soul of the film.

But as many filmmakers before Spielberg has learnt, Dahl's books are not easy to bring from print to screen and The BFG is no different.

For it to be a family film - one that comes under the Disney banner, no less - some of the darker elements of the original story have been toned down.

There is also plenty of dialogue - perhaps too much for something pitched at a younger audience - as the giant and the little girl banter non-stop; and the former's initially-endearing gobbledegook and ramblings become difficult to listen to after a while.

That spoils some of the fun but at least the screenwriter, the late Melissa Mathison who also wrote Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestial and penned the iconic line "ET phone home", made use of it to retain the original spirit of the book.

The film opens with the BFG snatching Sophie (Barnhill) from an orphanage one night after she accidentally spots him going about his business in London.

He whisks her back to Giant Country when she soon learns that unlike the other towering beasts with horrific names like Fleshlumpeater (Jermaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader), the BFG has a gentler side and no interest in eating her or other "human beans" like them.

Sophie teaches him how to stand up for himself and the pair become fast friends as they band together to fight against the other giants who plan to take over the world.

The first hour of the film is most enchanting with its eye-popping dreamy visuals but too much talking and not enough action makes it sag in the middle. Things spring back to life with a side-splitting third act that involves a flatulent Queen (Penelope Wilton).

The BFG might not be an instant classic but with Spielberg, Dahl and Disney's names attached to it, things can't - and don't - really go wrong either.

Rating: B-