Published on September 8th, 2016 | by gareth0
Why The BFG Works
As you may have noticed in our review, The BFG was a pretty successful family adventure film this summer. Based on the children’s book of the same name by Roald Dahl, it’s a charming story about a young girl who’s peacefully abducted (for lack of a better description) by a &Big Friendly Giant.& Frankly, as wonderful as the book was, the movie should have been a little bit absurd. But it worked extraordinarily well, which is remarkable when you consider how often fairy tale films have struggled in recent years.
It started with Snow White & The Huntsman in 2012, which effectively built a side story out of the traditional Snow White narrative. Casting Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna was a strong move and it was wise to employ Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman when he was just emerging as a leading man-type. But Kristen Stewart felt miscast as a more rugged Snow White, and the whole thing came across as a pale imitation of Lord Of The Rings rather than a classic fairytale retelling. The movie wasn’t a disaster at the box office, but it’s telling that the sequel branched off with the Huntsman rather than continuing with the Snow White story. The fairy tale was more or less abandoned in search of a story that would please modern audiences more.
Then there was Jack The Giant Slayer in 2013, which was every bit as bold a concept as adapting The BFG. Naturally CGI and animation had to be employed, but suffice it to say they went overboard. This movie could have gone with a fully cartoonish route, which was actually the approach taken by a Jack & The Beanstalk game that recent popped up in a collection of amusing licensed games online. Like its counterparts, the game puts a spin on a traditional slot machine by employing popular characters and imagery, but snarling purple giants, a massive castle enveloped in storm clouds and the like make for an intentionally silly take on the fantasy. But what Jack The Giant Slayer did was different; this seemed like an attempt to go with a semi-serious epic adventure and ended up being <me>un</em>-intentionally silly, which is a cardinal sin for even a family adventure.
And then there was Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which also came out in 2013. Admittedly, this was more in the vein of films like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, rather than a genuine attempt to bring an old fairy tale to life, but it was still extremely bizarre. As one review put it, the movie settled for showers of gore with intermittent moments of silliness indicating that there wasn’t a clear direction from the start. You can view this film as a comedy that didn’t quite come together or as an action fantasy with misplaced moments of levity, but you can’t quite pin it on a genre, and that makes the experience disjointed in this case. Incidentally, this movie actually inspired an online slot game as well, and there’s even been talk of a sequel, though most who saw it would probably rather leave it in the past.
After thinking about these films, the simple way to articulate why The BFG works when so many other recent fairy tale adaptations have failed is that it didn’t fall into these traps.
The casting was brilliant. Young Ruby Barnhill was excellent as Sophie (a role countless little girls probably wanted), and Mark Rylance, fresh off an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor</a>, carried the project in a manner that was genuinely reminiscent of Dahl’s character. Additionally, the tone was both spot-on and consistent. The film was at different times funny, adventurous, whimsical, and sentimental—and perhaps, to younger viewers, even appropriately scary.
What it really boils down to is a cast and crew that understood the author’s work. The BFG may not be as iconic as Snow White, Jack & The Beanstalk, or Hansel & Gretel, but it’s a very important book to a lot of people that also happens to have a great film adaptation.