The BFG (1989)
Oh my, there’s no easy way to say this so I’ll just get to the point. The BFG hasn’t aged well. At all. In fact, it’s aged so badly that it makes me wonder how I gleaned enjoyment from it in the first place, when I saw it back in the late 80s.
The story gets going very quickly, it’s all about a Big Friendly Giant (hence the title, sorry to disappoint fans of the Doom series) who is spotted by a young girl living in an orphanage, named Sophie. The BFG takes Sophie away with him and she is, understandably, quite scared when they arrive back at his home. Thankfully, it turns out that the BFG only snatched Sophie so that she wouldn’t tell everyone about him. He’s not going to eat her, though it may be difficult to keep her safe from the other giants. When Sophie finds out just what the other giants get up to, including a plan to munch every child in the orphanage that she lived in, she tries to convince the BFG that they must find a way to warn people and to have the situation dealt with. But who can stop a group of giants looking to fill their tummies.
Like many other works by Roald Dahl, the best thing here is the fact that the material talks to children but doesn’t talk down to children. There are fantastical elements, of course, and moments of carefree fun (especially when Sophie is shown just how to make th emost of “whizzpopping” by the BFG), but there are also darker aspects to the story and Dahl never shies away from mentioning details that could prove upsetting or disturbing (in this case it’s the killing and eating of children by the giants). Yet he always gets things just right and that’s what made him such a master storyteller in the 20th century. If you’re in any doubt about his abilities to equally entertain and scare children then just remember this – Roald Dahl created The Child Catcher character for the screenplay of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Seeing what has been done with some of the other works of Roald Dahl makes this one feel like even more of a missed opportunity. There is no imagination overload in the design work (a la Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory), no real trauma-inducing moment (a la THAT scene in The Witches) and certainly no character like the Child Catcher casting a dark shadow over everything. I’m not going to use the many, superior adaptations that have come our way in recent years, as that would be unfair, but even in comparison to the other onscreen adaptations of Dahl’s work this one simply doesn’t make the grade.
It feels slapdash and bland and director Brian Cosgrove must shoulder the responsibility for that. The animation is rough and, to be brutally honest, often quite ugly while the two main songs created for the film fail to provide highlights. The only thing going for it is the vocal cast: David Jason is excellent as The BFG, Amanda Root is good enough as Sophie and there is support from, among others, British stalwarts such as Don Henderson and Mollie Sugden.
If you caught this, like me, when it first came out then you may be able to recall some fond memories and get some enjoyment out of it. But it’s very hard work so prepare yourself for disappointment.
The BFG stomps on to DVD on 10th September here in the UK. The disc features a selection of extras that ultimately prove as disappointing as the main feature itself. An interview with director Brian Cosgrove runs for about 11 minutes but looks as if it was shot and edited on a mobile phone (perhaps I had a faulty disc but the audio was also way out of synch, sadly). There’s a gallery that you cannot scroll through, unless I was blind and missed an option, some storyboards which add up to one rough drawing for each of the main scenes looked at, a look at the film before and after restoration and two songs you can choose which simply allows you to see and hear the songs as they are in the film. Thankfully, the menu screens themselves are lovely samples of animation and stand out as the best “feature” on the disc. The rest just feels lazy, which is a great shame.
DIRECTOR: BRIAN COSGROVE
WRITER: JOHN HAMBLEY, ADAPTING THE BOOK BY ROALD DAHL
STARS: DAVID JASON, AMANDA ROOT, ANGELA THORNE, BALLARD BERKELEY, MICHAEL KNOWLES, DON HENDERSON, MOLLIE SUGDEN
RUNTIME: 87 MINS APPROX