Insomnia during the magic hour of 3 a.m. leads to an unlikely friendship between a Big Giant Friend and an orphaned little girl. Through each other, the two find courage and happenstance to improve their situations.

Before the Internet and texting, “The BFG” was a Roald Dahl 1982 children’s book about a young orphaned girl in London. As one might expect, with director Steven Spielberg, has sweetened any dark Dahl-esque meanderings.

This version is a fairy tale. Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) suffers from insomnia and wanders without any adult interference (Marilyn Norry portrays Mrs. Clonkers the director of the orphanage). Her fellow orphans sleep suspiciously sound.  Sophie hears and then sees a 24-foot giant who grabs her without waking a single orphan. Sophie is then taken away to the land of the giants. Spielberg imagines the BFG digs as artistically chaotic compared to the original Quentin Blake illustrations. Sophie is at first frightened but discovers he’s a friendly bachelor, who has lived a lonely life. She dubs him the BFG.

Giants aren’t all so friendly and what and who a giant is is all relative.  The BFG isn’t a giant compared to the nine anthropophagus (man-eating) giants who sleep outside, using grass like great sod blankets. These other giants are dirty, bare-chested and kilt-wearing goons led by Fleshlumpeater.

The BFG sleeps in a great boat left in a spring that is fed by a waterfall further in the cave. A few contraptions that work a bridge help keep the less friendly giants out of the Big Friendly Giant’s vault of captured dreams and nightmares. At night, the BFG takes Sophie to the Dream Country where he catches dreams that appear to be bright lights that flash and frolic. Once captured in a glass bottle, they have some form to indicate the dream’s content.

The anthropophagus discover that the BFG has a human and trash his vault of dreams looking for Sophie and Sophie discovers that once, a long time ago, the BFG had another human friend. Sophie isn’t the only human in danger. While the BFG has been entering the human world of Great Britain to give dreams, the other giants have been venturing there for human beings snack-time.

Horrified at this and how the antropophagus treat the BFG, Sophie concocts a plan. The BFG mixes a dream that will convince the Queen Elizabeth II of England (Penelope Wilton) that her subjects are being poached by giants. With the help of the queen, who treats the BFG to a comically complicated breakfast, they devise a plan to control the giants.

The other countries mentioned in the original book are cut out (how would one incorporate the Sultan of Baghdad today and make the story whimsical?). And Sophie finds a happy ending, but not with the BFG.

Mark Rylance’s performance is caught through motion-capture and he’s a boot and an old coot, the kind of uncle every kid wishes he or she had, that has magical order in his own disorder and a delightfully idiosyncratic way of speaking from half-learned words   and misunderstood meanings. Melissa Mathison’s script captures the wonderful whimsy of Dahl’s written dialogue and builds on it.

 

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