The animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's quirky fantasy novel "The BFG" never got much notice in the States, and it's easy to see why. The movie is slight and unimpressive, decent enough to charm young viewers, but too rough in spots to wow the way the better Dahl-based films have.
Developed for British television by Cosgrove Hall, the company behind "Danger Mouse" and "Count Duckula," and broadcast as a Christmas special in 1989, "The BFG" involves an orphan named Sophie (voiced by Amanda Root) who's kidnapped by a giant (David Jason) when she awakens to catch him at work, blowing dreams into the minds of sleeping children. He takes her back to the land of giants, where she discovers that he's a good giant, hence the nickname she gives him: the BFG, or Big Friendly Giant.
And friendly he is. He teaches her all about the way giants live, which includes meals made of disgusting snozzcumbers and drinks where the bubbles float down - which is charming, until he breaks out into a particularly lame song about the joys of farting. (Just as burping played a key role in Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," farting here gets plenty of attention; in the BFG's house, it even makes you fly.) It's not the subject matter that ruins the mood, it's the music, which is mediocre at best and obnoxious at worst. It's the sort of song written by somebody who deeply believes that all children's tunes should be both stupid and unpleasant.
The works in its own way for a while, with Sophie wowing to the discoveries of this magical new world (her trip to the Dream Country is inventive and amusing), but then we get bogged down in a plot that goes all the wrong ways, at least in movie form. We learn of evil giants that want to eat humans, and so off Sophie and the BFG go to Buckingham Palace to meet the queen herself (few things are as off-putting as a poorly animated Queen Elizabeth), who orders the army to nab the giants - with the agreement that no weapons be used, as the BFG abhors violence.
So what begins as a quaint fairy tale turns midway into an ill-conceived dark military adventure of sorts, with helicopters whizzing through the giants' kingdom, attacking all sorts of oversized baddies. Dahl's anti-violence sentiments get lost when they're brought to life, as seeing the military in action adds all the wrong layers to the story.
(The story, by the way, is so thin and scraggly that it can't handle the weight of any wrong turns. What we get here is the general idea of some story portions, but not a complete tale. Entire ideas come and go without anybody bothering to flesh them out, as if the filmmakers assume children will make do with vagueness. Entire scenes feel missing - what are they going to do once they capture the bad giants? Nothing? OK.)
Worse, the whole thing comes to us in an animation style that's rough and unappealing. While backgrounds are rich with detail and truly capture Dahl's grand imagination, the character designs are more restrained, and the late-1980s level of cartooning fails to catch our eye. The attempts to provide us with an accurate portrayal of the queen despite the limitations of the animators leaves everything a bit too clumsy; imagine the lousy character design of movies like "Heavy Metal," but on a lower budget, and you get the idea of what people look like here.
If this were a movie coasting along on pure charm, I suppose the second-rate animation could get a pass, but the story rarely captivates the way a Dahl tale should. There are a few very enjoyable moments, and Jason delivers a notably lively performance as the title character, but these bits are overshadowed by a production that's too slapdash to ever take off.
Out of print on DVD for years, "The BFG" gets a re-release courtesy A&E, who put this alongside their releases for other Cosgrove Hall productions.
The cleanness of the transfer is actually a bit of a problem here - while we don't get any issues on the digital side of things, we do get a closer look at the iffiness of the original film image, which is to say, colors are muddy, the rough-sketch look to the characters comes through a bit more than it should, and the whole thing just looks cheap. No fault of the DVD, though. Presented in the film's original 1.33:1 broadcast format.
The Dolby stereo sounds just fine, although that means we get to hear the tiresome songs come in loud and clear. No subtitles are provided.
Nothing other than a Dahl bibliography and biography timeline. They probably should have been combined into a single timeline.
Rent It, but only for the tykes. Younger children will enjoy the fantastic elements of the story enough to get them to sit still for ninety minutes, while older kids and grown-ups will be bored and wholly unimpressed with the weak animation, cloying songs, and empty storytelling. You're better off heading down to your local library or bookstore instead.