“I is reading it hundreds of times, and I is still reading it and teaching new words to myself and how to write them. It is the most scrumdiddlyumptious story.’
Sophie took the book out of his hand. ‘Nicholas Nickleby,’ she read aloud.
‘By Dahl’s Chickens’
– The BFG
With the combination of Steven Spielberg’s directorial genius and Roald Dahl’s masterful storytelling, BFG was destined to amaze right from the get-go. It is primarily a feel-good children’s movie that surpasses its genre and becomes an engrossing tale of bravery and righteousness tempered with Roald Dahl’s personal brand of shenanigans and tomfoolery. For those of you who read Roald Dahl as a child – first of all, congratulations; your childhood was awesome – secondly, this movie is going to be a mystical adventure ride to the past for you (think Disneyland’s Space Mountain with a lot more rainbows and farting giants thrown in).
The movie opens in an older version of London, possibly harking back to 1982, when the book was first published, but featured modern day elements in a synchronous juxtaposition. It’s the story of Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), a bespectacled, insomniac little orphan girl with a penchant for breaking the orphanage’s austere rules without getting caught. One night, she happens to catch sight of a formidable figure scampering about outside her orphanage. Scared, she goes right back to pretending to be asleep, but to her terror, gets captured by the gigantic figure who takes her to his shack in Giant Country, in an attempt to avoid risking exposing the existence of his kind.
Despite his gnarly appearance, and the initial scare, Sophie discovers the giant to be a friendly, caring and kindly old recluse, thus earning him the eponymous moniker of The BFG (Big Friendly Giant). BFG (played by Mark Rylance), as it happens, gets picked on by the other giants for his (relatively) small stature and his refusal to feed on humans (whom they refer to as ‘beans’, as in, ‘human beans’, which is what ‘human beings’ sounds like in the giants’ adorable swiggly Devon/Midlands accent).
Being two lonely souls caught in less-than-ideal living conditions, they soon became fast friends. The BFG reveals to Sophie that he catches and bottles dreams and goes about all of England distributing them among people. He takes her to the land of dreams, where he hears “all the secret whisperings of the world”. Sophie urges BFG to stand up for himself and not bear the torment constantly inflicted upon him by his comically moronic brethren.
As the various events of the story unfold, the movie increases its ridiculousness levels, reaching a deafening crescendo in the form of Her Majesty, The Queen of England, bursting a ‘whizzpopper’ (visible flatulence; that’s pretty much all you need to know at this point). But then again, you wouldn’t possibly expect absolute realism from a fantasy film written for children. Seriously though, if you need to learn how to make a good fart joke, there’s no one better than Steven Spielberg to learn from – through this movie, the man tables the motion and chairs the meeting for well-written children’s humor that would appeal to adults as well.
The sets were intricately well designed – the dream land truly seemed like a place you wouldn’t want to leave when you’re inside it; the scene at the Buckingham Palace was a visual treat that’s also guaranteed to tickle your funny bone at the same time, and the theme of juxtaposition of the old and the new was given an entirely new dimension when helicopters and advanced military infiltrated the medieval looking Giant Country.
Underneath the empowering overtones of rambunctious humor and a sense of wonder brought about by brilliant animation and CGI; the movie contains quite a few references and is symbolic in more ways than one.
The language used by the giants includes ‘swiggly’ terms like ‘scrumdiddlyumptious’ and ‘hippodumplings’, spoken in a sing-songy manner highly reminiscent of Anthony Burgess’ infamous Nadsat talk in A Clockwork Orange (albeit in a much less sinister setting). Such playful speech is a distinctive feature in most of Dahl’s novellas, and has been labelled “Gobblefunk”. In addition, quite a few of the set designs and respective animations looked like they could have well been a nod to Disney’s most cherished children’s movies, like Aladdin and Peter Pan. In the movie, The BFG is seen reading Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, which revolves around a little boy’s struggle to survive in a cruel and unforgiving world. In BFG, Sophie plays a role not unlike Nickleby’s, and this struck me as Spielberg (and Roald Dahl)’s attempt at drawing a possible parallel between their characters by referencing the book.
Mark Rylance, as BFG, portrays the role of an old man who’s grown up knowing only abuse and neglect his entire life, but yet, shows nothing but love and kindness for the rest of the world and sees the beauty and innocence in their dreams.
Ruby Barnhill plays the role of a strong, independent woman who’s borne witness to the world’s harshness at a very young age. Armed with childlike innocence and a strong moral compass, she lives by her own rules and refuses to let anyone dictate terms upon her. Towards the beginning of the movie, she observes the little dolls inside her dollhouse, and this becomes ironic on a poetic level when she practically plays one herself inside a larger being’s ‘dollhouse’ for the rest of the movie. She reminds us of other such cherished Roald Dahl characters like Matilda from Matilda (brought to life by director Danny DeVito) and Nicolas Roeg’s Luke Eveshim of The Witches.
The movie is primarily about the beautiful friendship between The BFG and Sophie: a gentle, loving old man and a vibrant little girl with a mission to protect mankind from vicious monsters – two bohemians pursuing a highly outlandish goal; and the triumph of good over evil. Steven Spielberg ensured that the point of the movie wasn’t lost amidst the fantastical, wondrous and surreal chaos that the movie turned out to be. In the end, you’ll be left with that warm, fuzzy feeling that usually follows after witnessing a spectacle that’s ridiculous on so many levels, but still remains tenderly life-affirming. It reminds you that there’s a bit of Sophie and The BFG in all of us, and that’s phizz-whizzingly gloriumptious.
— Rahul Basu for MTTN