CHICAGO (Christian Examiner) – For some reason, kids – and adults – have lively imaginations at night. That scratching noise on the window screen? Perhaps it is a tree branch or a flying insect, but it also could be a thief or a monster ... right?
And even though we know it almost certainly isn't anything that could harm us, noises like that have a way to cause us to lay awake in bed at night, just wondering what might be lurking outside in the yard, on the street, or down the road.
That's how it is in the new Disney movie The BFG (PG), which is based on the popular book by Roald Dahl and follows the story of a "Big Friendly Giant" from Giant Country who befriends a 10-year-old girl named Sophie.
Sophie, you see, lives in a London orphanage and stays up at night in fear of the so-called "witching hour" when the "boogie man" comes and snatches people (at least, that's what she's heard). As it turns out, the rumors are only slightly true.
One late night when she is standing on her balcony looking for her cat, she spots a 24-foot giant walking through the city's deserted streets. He sees her, too, and although she runs back to her bed, he reaches through the window and snatches her, and takes her back to his giant home.
"Where am I?" she demands.
"Giant Country," he says
Sounds like a scary Halloween flick, huh? Not at all. We soon learn that this giant has all the qualities of a loving grandfather (he sounds like one, too). He reads her a bedtime story. He gives her clean clothes. He even provides her food. And as for that kidnapping part, he tells her he had a good reason why he stole her: He was afraid that she would spread the word about him – and have him killed.
But not all is well in Giant Country. The BFG is the only nice giant. The other 10 or so giants, he tells Sophie, are murderers and cannibals. Yep, they eat people. They're also about three times taller than the BFG, and they often bully him.
All of this may sound like it would be too scary for children, but that probably will depend on the age. My 8-year-old son enjoyed The BFG and never was scared, although my 4-year-old twins may have been (they stayed home). It might benefit parents to tell young children that the big giant is friendly – even though he might not seem like it at first.
This friendly giant also has a unique job: He "catches" dreams – they look like magical fireflies -- and then "blows" them into a person's mind (it requires a magical trumpet).
Lessons for Families
The BFG includes quite a few obvious and subtle lessons for children, beginning with the movie's overarching theme: overcoming fear. Sophie is scared of the "monsters" at night. The BFG is scared of the other giants. Those other giants are scared of fire and water (yes, seriously). In the end, all of those fears were baseless. I always tell my young ones at night that God is watching over them and they shouldn't be afraid, but it's always nice to have a film to make a similar point.
Speaking of spiritual matters, The BFG himself has God-like qualities. He hears whispers all over the earth. He senses feelings. He controls dreams. He tells Sophie that he didn't have parents, and that he's as old as the earth. As we drove home, my son and I compared and contrasted the qualities of God and the BFG (noting, obviously, that God created the earth).
There also are lessons in the film about bullying, about not judging people by their appearance (the BFG looks scary at first), and also about taking care of those who are helpless (which Sophie is in the midst of Giant Country).
The Verdict: Is it OK for Small Kids?
I've always enjoyed British-speaking shows and movies, and The BFG – directed by Steven Spielberg -- is no different. It is, in one word, "charming." The last third of the film slows down a bit, but it doesn't detract too much from what is an enjoyable, clean family film. It has no language and no sexuality, and the only violence comes from the mean giants. It does have two scenes of rude humor, as the BFG drinks a beverage that makes him flatulate (sparks literally shoot out of his rear).
So, is the movie OK for small children? Will they get scared? My answer: Watch the trailer, perhaps with your kids. If they know ahead of time that the giant is nice, they might be fine. The first 10 minutes is a bit intense, but knowing how it ends could help. That said, I likely will not take my 4-year-old kids. But if they were 5 or 6? Probably.
The BFG is rated PG for action/peril, some scary moments, and brief rude humor.
Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family friendly rating:
Post-movie discussion topics: overcoming fear – what can we learn from Sophie and the giant?; dreams – does God sometimes speak through them?; bullying – what can we learn from the BFG's encounter with the other giants?
Michael Foust has covered films for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelFoust