Adapting Roald Dahl: The good, the bad and the wondercrump

A scene from 'The BFG' film
In Disney's fantasy-adventure 'The BFG,' directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Roald Dahl's beloved classic, a precocious 10-year old named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) befriends the BFG (Oscar-winner Mark Rylance), a big, friendly giant from Giant Country.
Courtesy of Disney
A scene from 'The BFG' film
'The BFG,' directed by Steven Spielberg based on the beloved novel by Roald Dahl, is the exciting tale of a young London girl (Ruby Barnhill) and the mysterious Giant (Mark Rylance) who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country.
Courtesy of Disney


Roald Dahl's magical classic "The B.F.G." opens on the big screens this weekend. It's a CGI-fest — there's no way around it, when ten of your characters are between 25 and 50 feet tall — but the fancy graphics don't gobble up all the wonder and menace of the original book.

While we toast the newest Dahl adaptation with a healthy dose of frobscottle (mind the whizpopping, if you're in polite company), here's a look at other adaptations of his work. Which ones were whoopsey-splunkers, and which ones were rotsome?

"The B.F.G," 2016

I'll admit, I was skeptical: How do you portray CGI giants that don't look ridiculous alongside human actors? But I was also heartened to see the dream team at work: The film marked the first time director Steven Spielberg had reunited with Melissa Mathison, the screenwriter behind "E.T."

"E.T." is arguably one of the most endearing films about an otherworldly friendship ever made, which is the perfect tack for "The B.F.G.", which centers on the relationship between a little girl and a 25-foot-tall vegetarian giant. That giant — the big, friendly one — abducts Sophie out of her bed so she won't reveal his existence. Soon, she's let in on all his secrets, like how he captures dreams to distribute to children, and how he's the misunderstood runt of a foul giant horde.

The film doesn't shy away from some of the darker elements of the book, exploring loneliness and abandonment and loss. It also isn't afraid to have a cast of bloodthirsty giants named The Childchewer, The Meatdripper, The Bloodbottler and more.

It takes the movie a fair bit of time to bring the magical world of Giant Country to life, and before you know it, you're zooming into a final act that involves the Queen of England, farting Corgis and a call-out to Ronald Reagan. A little something for everyone.

(The book is still better.)

"Matilda," 1996

Matilda Wormwood is the definition of underappreciated. The child prodigy had not only read the entire library by age five, she could also move things with her mind. But did her family care about her extraordinary powers? Not a lick. They only cared if she was blocking the T.V.

The 1996 film brought book-loving Matilda to life with an extra dose of sweet and perhaps the best chocolate cake scene in modern cinema. Pam Ferris' whip-wielding portrayal of the Trunchbull was enough to induce nightmares — which is exactly what you want from a kids' movie.

Also: Who doesn't dream of being adopted by Miss Honey? The film stayed true to Dahl's charming tale of telekinesis and revenge.

"The Witches," 1990

Speaking of nightmares, "The Witches" might be Dahl's most distressing children's novel. A small boy is let in on a terrifying secret by his grandmother: Witches are real, and they kill children.

Determined to stop their reign of terror, the boy and his grandmother take on the entire council of English witches. The 1990 film perfectly cast Angelica Houston as the Grand High Witch herself, and she's pure intimidation — both in and out of her prosthetics.

"Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," 1971

The Gene Wilder adaptation is pure imagination (with a side of unsettling psychedelic set pieces).

When five children are allowed entrance into the mysterious, top-secret Willy Wonka candy factory, four are pure furies of gluttony and greed, but the polite and unassuming Charlie Bucket is just happy to be included. The eerie songs, Fizzy Lifting Drinks and Cheeto-orange Oompa-Loompas perfectly capture the unhinged and magical mayhem of Dahl's original book.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," 2005

I'm still too scarred by this Johnny Depp and Tim Burton nightmare to talk about it. Wilder forever.

"James and the Giant Peach," 1996

The gorgeously saturated stop-motion animation of this film was really the only way to bring the tale of talking insects to the screen. The movie follows poor little James Henry Trotter, an orphan left under the reign of his tyrannical aunts.

When a series of magic green crocodile tongues turns everything in the garden enormous, James finds himself talking face-to-face with Mr. Grasshopper, Mrs. Ladybug, Earthworm and more. They gather inside a giant peach, and take it airborne, to fulfill James' dream of seeing New York.

This adaptation is not only charming, but just gorgeous to watch, from the light of the Glowworm to the clank of the robotic shark.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox," 2009

Another entry in the stop-motion animation department is Wes Anderson's inspired spin on Dahl's vulpine classic. Anderson heaped his signature quirky style on the tale of a wily fox outwitting a farmer, and presents an utterly modern Mr. Fox, mischievously voiced by George Clooney.

It definitely departs from the more simplistic tale in Dahl's book, but the charisma makes up for the alterations. And, there's Bill Murray.

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