Steven Spielberg often has a magical moment of childlike awe and wonderment, mixed with just a bit of fear, in most of his movies. The BFG is what happens when Spielberg decides to make an entire movie out of one of those moments. It’s a delightful, fun and admittedly fairly simple movie that leaves a smile on your face. Spielberg has said that this was one of his favorite projects to work on, and it’s not hard to see why; this is a feel-good, happy movie of such goodness and sweetness that’s all too rare today, and thus, makes it feel quite fresh.
I’ve heard others complain about how there really isn’t much substance to the plot in BFG, or there isn’t very much at stake, or that the characters seem rather simplistic, and on and on. Really what it sounds like is bothering people is the movie is too “nice.” There’s no morally conflicted protagonist, no dark and twisted villainy (some dark and sad moments are subtlety hinted at, but they remain far in the background), and there aren’t even any explosions or cities being destroyed. In a sea of bombastic set pieces and muddled “heroes,” The BFG almost seems archaic in its simple sweetness; and therein lies the appeal. The happy ending is never in doubt, and much of the movie is all about that wonderful feeling of childlike awe and the spirit of fantastical adventure. While there is a tint of sadness, overall this movie is about optimism and hope, pure and simple. Everything will work out just fine, and by the way, he (the BFG) always hears the longing of the heart.
It’s an encouraging thought; to think that there might be someone who hears our heart and actually cares about what it says. I was surprised, actually, by how much this story centers on the idea of faith; faith that he can hear, faith that he is there. I suppose that part of the problem with faith is that we grow up. As a child it’s easy for us to believe; as a cynical adult, we need to know, not just believe. Well the Bible repeatedly tells us that we can know there is a God, a God who loves and cares for us, and who does indeed hear the cries of our heart (Psalm 4:3; Psalm 145:19, Psalm 55:17). In fact, we’re very clearly told that God hears the needy, and that he does not despise his own people (Psalm 69:33). God’s not mad at you, in fact, he loves you, and when you call to him, he will hear, and he will respond. The response may not always be what you want (he’s not just a wish granter, after all), but you can be sure that he never ignores those who call upon him, that’s why he’s truly the BFG; the Big Forever God.
Of course, none of this would work without solid performances from the two central characters. Fortunately (and it probably should come as no surprise), Mark Rylance delivers a pitch perfect performance that the titular BFG, imbuing him with warmth, heart, a touch of world-weary sadness and just the right amount of quirkiness to make him immediately endearing. Meanwhile, Ruby Barnhill, working with naught but a bunch of CG images, is the perfect mixture of spunk and vulnerability. These two make for a winsome pair that is easy to invest in and to enjoy their company.
Disney has been killing it at the box office this year, and in truth, Finding Dory will probably continue to dominate over the holiday weekend, which is a shame because many families may end up missing this hidden gem. Why Disney decided to compete with itself is a mystery to me, but if you get a chance to get out of the heat with the family at the movies, don’t miss out on what could turn out to be quite simply one of the “nicest” and most enjoyable movies of the summer.
Score: 6 of 7 – The BFG is an easy movie for the family to enjoy, with even the darkest subject matter (giants taking kids for snacks) being dealt with a light touch. Some mild potty humor (which I actually found pretty fun), and that’s about the only concerns I could find with The BFG; the rest is just a simple, magical delight.