Steven Spielberg’s The BFG is not the director’s greatest box office achievement, but it’s one of his most purely delightful movies. Because it’s primarily entertainment for children, more so than anything he has directed before (including E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, and The Adventures of Tintin), it may be a while before we see a whole lot of defenses of its charms. Wait a couple decades and this Roald Dahl adaptation will surely get the “one of my favorite movies growing up” treatment from many future movie bloggers who are currently children interested in silly fart gags, gross goop imagery, and bright CG spectacle inspired by dreams and wonder.
With the target and presumed audience for The BFG being kids (like the book), below is a curated list of 15 recommendations for all those young fans of the movie, now and in the future.
The Conquest of the Pole (1912)
Georges Melies had previously made a movie involving giants with his 1902 adaptation (the first) of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” But this much longer effort made a decade later is more relevant to the Dahl story, as its giant lives far in the north ‐ the North Pole, in fact ‐ and eats people.
Giants are not uncommon to Disney movies, as this early black and white animated short proves. It stars Mickey Mouse in a version of the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk,” 14 years before the more familiar “Mickey and the Beanstalk” from in the film Fun and Fancy Free. Mickey also stars in giant-themed shorts Gulliver Mickey, based on the Swift, and Brave Little Tailor.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
With The BFG being Spielberg’s first movie for Disney, it’s fitting to acknowledge his favorite of the studio’s animated classics. As he told D23:
I saw it in a movie theater during its ninth revival, when I was only probably 7 or 8 years old. And it stuck with me. And it’s with me today, remembering it as vividly now and being so frightened and terrified as I was when I was a little kid, and at the same time so filled with the feeling of satisfaction at that amazing ending and pride in Snow White.
Interestingly enough, Spielberg’s first feature was going to be a cynical, Swinging ’60s take on the “Snow White” fairy tale for Universal Pictures with the dwarves being seven guys who work in a San Francisco Chinese food factory who Snow has sex with while she waits for her prince. But he was to wind up dead, and one of the dwarves was to be hung. [Stream it on Amazon]
Good Morning (1959)
Who knows when the first fart appeared in film, but if critics think the flatulence gags in The BFG are too childish, they may be forgetting that such humor can be found in everything from Shakespeare to the classic comedy Blazing Saddles, as well as the foreign films of such prestigious directors as Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, and Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu directed this film, a sort of remake of his own I Was Born, But…, and it features a running subplot with young boys making each other toot at will. [Get the Criterion Collection DVD]
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Of all the major adaptations of Dahl, this is still arguably the best. It’s also the first movie (along with the 2005 Tim Burton remake, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) to, like The BFG, feature the “Gobblefunk” word “scrumdiddlyumptious.” And it features a fizzy drink employed for a scene involving gas. However, here it’s burping instead of farting. [Stream it on Amazon]
Time Bandits (1981)
In this kids’ movie from director Terry Gilliam, a young English boy goes on an adventure through time with little people instead of a young English girl going on an adventure into a dream world with a giant. But that boy and that girl look and talk so similarly that the movies fit together very well. Oh, and there is a giant in this movie, too. [Get the Criterion Collection Blu-ray]
When the orphan girl of The BFG is welcomed in to Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth it’s reminiscent of when the orphan girl of the first, John Huston-helmed movie of Annie is both welcomed in to the mansion of Daddy Warbucks and welcomed in to the White House by President Roosevelt. [Stream it on Amazon (free for Prime members)]
Dahl’s first children’s book was 1943’s “The Gremlins,” which was actually supposed to be adapted into a Disney animated feature. He also featured the creatures in his adult novel follow-up, “Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen.” Forty-Five years after that first Dahl book, Spielberg produced Twilight Zone: The Movie, which includes the George Miller-helmed, gremlin-centric segment “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” based on the 1963 Twilight Zone episode directed by Richard Donner, who would later make The Goonies for Spielberg. But the most famous feature involving gremlins is this other movie produced by Spielberg. Like The BFG, its creatures include one who is smaller and friendlier and a bunch of his brothers (or are they his children?) who are mean and murderous. [Stream it on Amazon (free for Prime members)]
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
While not directed nearly as well as The BFG, this movie that treats the Santa Claus myth as a superhero story is still similarly under-appreciated. There is a lot to enjoy (this is one of my “I loved it as a kid” guilty pleasures) and like Spielberg’s movie this involves a homeless kid joining a jolly character from the far north as he goes around visiting children while they’re sleeping and giving them gifts ‐ here toys instead of dreams [Stream it on Amazon]
The BFG (1989)
There are conflicting reports out there regarding Spielberg always wanting to direct a movie of “The BFG,” having read the 1982 book to most of his children when it came out. But it wasn’t until 1991, while Spielberg was making Hook, that producing partners Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall set the thing in motion at Paramount Pictures, initially with Robin Williams desired for the title role. And it wasn’t until 2014 that the director decided to take the helm. Before the live-action version was envisioned, though, an animated feature was made. Directed by English animator Brian Cosgrove (the man behind the Danger Mouse cartoon), it was a fine enough adaptation for the prior generation of fans of the book to grow up with. [Stream it on Amazon]
The Indian and the Cupboard (1995)
Between her early collaborations with Spielberg (E.T. and Twilight Zone) and their reunion on The BFG, the late screenwriter Melissa Mathison wrote this adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks’s children’s novel about a boy whose Native American toy figure comes to life. It’s also produced by Kennedy and Marshall and of course involves characters who are respectively both tiny and giant-size. And an early shot in The BFG of Sophie and a dollhouse seems to hint at the idea of the girl being a giant compared to other figures. [Get the Blu-ray]
Windsor Hassle (1993)
Technically this is a segment from an episode of Animaniacs, which Spielberg presented as its executive producer. But then cartoon chapters were basically animated shorts packaged together. This one sees the Warner siblings helping Queen Elizabeth fix up the Windsor Castle banquet room following the fire in 1992. And like in The BFG, Her Majesty is depicted farting. Well, she sits on a whoopee cushion, but it’s basically the same gag.
The Iron Giant (1999)
If Brad Bird’s debut feature seems like an animated Spielberg film, that’s probably not a coincidence. After all, Bird initially earned notice for “Family Dog,” his 1987 episode (co-written by Tim Burton) for the Spielberg-produced anthology series Amazing Stories. He had also already co-written (with Mick Garris) Matthew Robbins’s 1985 episode “The Main Attraction.” And Bird co-wrote (with Garris, Robbins, S.S. Wilson, and Brent Maddock) Robbins’s 1987 feature *batteries not included, which was originally intended to be an episode of the show. Spielberg decided to produce it as a feature instead. Anyway, more than a decade later, after Spielberg tried to turn Bird’s “Family Dog” into a spin-off series, Bird directed this now-beloved movie about a boy and his giant robot, which many critics likened to E.T. Put some flesh on the mechanical man and he’s also another Big Friendly Giant. [Stream it on Amazon]
And then Spielberg wound up having his own movie about a boy and his giant robot. It’s not great, but compared to what the Michael Bay-helmed franchise has become, it’s also not that terrible, either. This original installment bears the closest thing to an imprint from Spielberg, and you can even feel a kinship between the scene where Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, and other Autobots are traipsing around Sam Witwicky’s yard and the one in The BFG where the title giant enters the grounds of Buckingham Palace. [Stream it on Amazon]
There are no friendly giants among the enormous trolls in this Norwegian found-footage monster movie. It’s easy to imagine this being to The BFG as Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds is to E.T. Maybe he should be the one to direct the planned English-language remake? [Stream it on Amazon]