The most heartwarming story about an orphan’s kidnapping you’ll see all year.

The most heartwarming story about an orphan’s kidnapping you’ll see all year.

Rated 5.0

It’s been 34 years since director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Melissa Mathison enchanted the world with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The new Disney movie The BFG is their first collaboration since their segment of 1983’s The Twilight Zone, and it’s a pleasure to report that their creative chemistry first exhibited on E.T. is still strong. (Alas, in Mathison’s case we must speak in the past tense; she died of cancer in November 2015 while The BFG was in production.)

Let’s not mince words. The BFG is a fantasy masterpiece, a bottomless treasure chest of magical wonders that will be cherished by children and children-at-heart for as long as movies live. I took my 9-year-old niece to an advance screening and she pronounced it “awesome.” She meant it in the casual way that kids usually do, pronouncing it to rhyme with “possum.” Still, she didn’t know how right she was; The BFG is awesome and marvelous in every meaning of the words, including and especially the most literal.

“BFG” stands for Big Friendly Giant. We see him first through the eyes of Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an English child who spies him late one night from the window of her orphanage. Seeing her, he snatches her from her bed and spirits her away to his cave in the Land of the Giants. Sophie expects to be eaten, but the giant is a vegetarian, mocked and abused by all the other giants because he refuses to eat children. He kidnapped Sophie because he knows she’d have told other “human beans” about him, which would only lead to a great giant-hunt, and the BFG can’t have that. Sophie will have to stay with him, hidden from the child-eating others, for the rest of her life.

The BFG is played by Mark Rylance, who won an Oscar for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. Rylance, one of the most respected stage actors alive, has surely found the role for which he’ll be remembered. He and the wonderful young Barnhill (whose entire career so far consists of six episodes of the British TV series 4 O’Clock Club) develop a deep and touching rapport, holding their own among some of the most breathtaking visual effects in movie history.

Mathison’s script is adapted from Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, but she adds levels beyond what Dahl wrote. Dahl’s BFG is a “Dreamcatcher,” capturing dreams in the wild and transmitting them to children in their sleep. Mathison and Spielberg take the dream metaphor one step further than Dahl did; children can watch the movie for the straightforward story it tells (as can adults)—or they can see layers of meaning in it, as a story of dreams within dreams within dreams.

Either way, any parent who doesn’t take the kids to see The BFG will be guilty of child abuse.