‘The BFG:’ Spielberg’s first for Disney

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Steven Spielberg with newcomer Ruby Barnhill

Steven Spielberg with newcomer Ruby Barnhill

Three-time Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg has a very special film coming out today—one that finally had him working in the magical world of Disney, while reuniting him too with his Oscar-nominated collaborator on E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Melissa Mathison.

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Disney and Amblin Entertainment, in association with Walden Media, present the fantasy adventure film The BFG, the first-ever motion picture adaptation of Roald Dahl’s resonant tale of childhood, the magic of dreams and the extraordinary friendship between a young girl and a big friendly giant. Mathison adapted the children’s author’s timeless adventure for the big screen.

The film stars Oscar winner Mark Rylance as the “Big Friendly Giant;” newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, the orphan who befriends him and is swept into a world of rampaging giants; Penelope Wilton as the Queen; Jemaine Clement as Fleshlumpeater, the most fearsome giant from Giant Country; Rebecca Hall as Mary, the Queen’s handmaid; Rafe Spall as Mr. Tibbs, the Queen’s butler; and Bill Hader as Bloodbottler, another unruly giant from Giant Country.

The BFG marked somewhat of a departure for Steven Spielberg. He explains, “I’ve been very blessed to have had all kinds of beautiful experiences telling stories. I’m hesitant to emphasize one story over the other because they have all had tremendous value to me. But I think the number of historical movies that I’ve been making—films like Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and then going further back to films like Amistad and Schindler’s List—have kept me fettered to the accuracy of telling a historical story.

“So being able to escape into the world of dreams and imaginations has been a dream in itself,” he continues. “That makes The BFG special, because it was my escape into what I think I kind of do best, which is just let my imagination run away with itself.”

According to Spielberg, he was raised on Grimm fairytales and they were very dark and very frightening with no redeeming social value, whatsoever.

“They were almost object lessons for kids, but Dahl and Disney both subscribed to the precepts of children’s folklore and embraced the darkness, because what is a fairytale without a dark center?” he says. “Without that dark center, where is the redemption, and how do you bring all of us out from the bowels of a nightmare into the most beautiful, enchanting dream we’d ever seen?”

The fact that Dahl chose a young girl as his protagonist in The BFG was something the director appreciated as well. Sophie is a strong girl who does not take no for an answer and is not intimidated by someone who is six-times bigger than her, and the character is similar to strong females who are at the center of many Walt Disney films.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has always been Spielberg’s favorite Disney film. “I saw it in a movie theater during its ninth revival when I was only seven or eight years old and it really stuck with me. I can still remember being so frightened and terrified, but at the same time, so satisfied with that amazing ending.”

Roald Dahl and Walt Disney actually met in April of 1943 to discuss a number of projects, one of which was The Gremlins, one of Dahl’s first stories. The film was eventually shelved, but was later released as a book by Disney and Random House with all proceeds going to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. The book did go on however, to serve as inspiration for the 1984 film Gremlins, which, coincidentally, was produced by Spielberg.

The filmmakers were all in agreement that The BFG felt like a hybrid between a classic Disney film and a movie from Amblin Entertainment (the production company Spielberg, Kennedy and Marshall founded in 1981), so they were thrilled when the studio green lit the film in the spring of 2015, making The BFG the first Walt Disney film to be directed by Steven Spielberg.

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