Roald Dahl’s funny, darkly glittering children’s novels are so inherently cinematic that adapting them to the big screen seems pointless. His 1982 novel The BFG, about a big, friendly giant–BFG for short–is so expansive, so rich with grumbly joy, that you’d think it would have to be sized down considerably to fit.
But in this adaptation, Steven Spielberg–working from a screenplay by the late Melissa Mathison, screenwriter of E.T.–gets the proportions just right, while preserving Dahl’s wily, mischievous spirit. His big, friendly secret weapon is Mark Rylance as the BFG. The story’s heroine, young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill, suitably precocious without being overly cute), is plucked from her London orphanage by a gargantuan hand and whisked away to a place she doesn’t recognize. She’s been kidnapped, in a kindly sort of way, by a vegetarian giant who means no harm. Taller than an aged oak tree, with knobby knees and elbows and a pair of elephantine flared ears capable of picking up “all the secret whisperings of the world,” the BFG (a computer-enhanced but instantly recognizable Rylance) teaches Sophie everything he knows about his job: he captures dreams and seals them in glass jars–where they glow in translucent, jelly-bean colors–before using a massive trumpet to blow them into the minds of humans as they sleep. In his off-hours, he relaxes with his favorite drink, a fizzy, flatulence-inducing libation called frobscottle.
Spielberg takes clear delight in this gorgeously ridiculous story, as well as in its star. Rylance’s BFG, a fragile, gentle soul with searching, expressive eyes and clumsy feet clad in hippie sandals, is a giant too big for the world and yet fully alive to it. His higgledy-piggledy cadences and incessant malapropisms–“butterflies” become “buttery-flies”–come to sound like music, which, come to think of it, is the only way to properly adapt Dahl. He must be heard properly, and Spielberg and Rylance pick up every nuance. The frobscottle kick is implied.
This appears in the June 27, 2016 issue of TIME.