Movie Review: Spielberg tests the patience of parents and tykes with “The BFG”

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Steven Spielberg reunites with his “E.T.” screenwriter to adapt Roald Dahl’s “The BFG,” which stands for “Big, Friendly Giant.”

He cast his “Bridge of Spies” Oscar winner, Mark Rylance, in the title role, and showcases the current state-of-the-motion-capture-animation art in the film, a tale of an orphan and the vegetarian giant (who doesn’t eat orphans) whom she befriends.

It’s a movie that takes the time to marvel over the production design — a Britain of the early ’80s (oddly filled with 1960s cars), and over the comical conceit Dahl built into this “runt” among giants —  his mangling of the English language.

“You has me wrong,” the BFG says to Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), whom he’s kidnapped and taken to Giant Land because he can’t have her going around claiming she’s seen a real giant. “I’m no man-gobbling cam-iable. I’s a feature of habit.”

His habits include capturing “human beans'” dreams in bottles, and fending off the much bigger giants all around him (Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader are animated beyond easy recognition) who bully “Runt,” as they call him. Their diets aren’t compatible. BFG, as Sophie calls him, eats nasty-looking snozzcumbers (snotty cucumbers) and bottles up Frobscottle, a fizzy drink that gives him gas — prompting many a “whizzpopper.”

The other giants? “I ‘ates vegi-terribles,” their leader (Clement as Fleshlumpeater) bellows. “I eats only (human) beans!”

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Orphaned Sophie must hide from these brutes, so she settles into the BFG’s lair, as does the movie, as Spielberg is entirely too content to let the camera linger over the oddities found there and Sophie’s (somewhat) wide-eyed reaction to them.

What Spielberg had to work with was a darkly funny and dangerous Dahl story with fart jokes (whizzpoppers), the Queen and a battle with giant bullies. What he’s made is a dawdling comedy built on gags of scale — big guy in a human-sized world, little girl in a giant sized world — and gags of English formality.

For when, in the third act, the Queen (Penelope Wilton of “Downton Abbey,” delightful and perfect) enters as Sophie and the BFG seek her help, we’re treated to the always-formal Buckingham Palace staff stumbling to accommodate Her Majesty’s new guest for tea. Bit of a bother, that, with substitute chairs, tables, cups and desserts improvised to a giant’s size.

The third act’s tea party and action beats are just lively enough to awaken anybody under the age of 5 and over the age of 10, lulled to sleep by the lovely images, dreamy effects and long stretches of understated wordplay.

So “The BFG” isn’t the “BFD” it might have been. Lovely as it often is, it’s a one hour and fifty-seven minute long kids’ movie designed to be watched, at home, with interruptions. And believe me, you’ll know it.

2half-star6

 

MPAA Rating: PG for action/peril, some scary moments and brief rude humor

Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Rebecca Hall, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader
Credits: Directed by Steven Spielberg, script by Melissa Mathison  based on the Roald Dahl book. A Walt Disney release.

Running time: 1:57

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