TheWrap critic Sam Adams charts how Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG” stacks up to classics like “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”
Sam Adams | September 13, 2018 @ 5:00 AM
Last Updated: September 13, 2018 @ 5:07 AM
9. Danny, the Champion of the World (1989)
With no giants or witches, eccentric geniuses or flying fruit, the made-for-TV version of Dahl's 1975 book is the odd adaptation, and it inevitably suffers by comparison to the book. The story of a rural auto mechanic who resists an evil real estate developer's attempts to take his land, it's solid but thoroughly unremarkable -- despite the presence of Jeremy Irons, playing opposite real-life son Daniel -- a slice of plain white bread amid the snozzcumbers and crocodile tongues.
8. The BFG (1989)
For proof of the magnitude of Mark Rylance's accomplishment in Steven Spielberg's "The BFG," look no further than this 1989 animated version, in which the giant's jumbled utterances go from tolerably quirky to downright grating. Dahl, who loathed most film versions of his work, apparently loved this one, and it's harmless enough, but also thoroughly inessential.
7. The Witches (1990)
The story of a newly orphaned boy who stumbles onto an annual convention of child-loathing witches, Nicolas Roeg's may be the ugliest of all Dahl adaptations, but that's not entirely a bad thing. True, the movie seems far more interested in its grotesque villainesses, including Anjelica Huston's Grand High Witch, who looks like the Crypt Keeper in eyeshadow. The ostensible protagonist's performance does improve once he's turned into a mouse, and Roeg creates plenty of fascinating detail around an occasionally soft center.
6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) Tim Burton dismissed the original "Willy Wonka" as "sappy," but swapping sentiment for art-directed freakishness is not an improvement. Burton's a great designer, but once Charlie and company arrive at Willy Wonka's pastille palace, Johnny Depp swallows the movie whole. Playing the reclusive genius as a cross between Andy Warhol and Michael Jackson is an inspired idea, but neither Depp nor Burton is prepared to follow through on its darker implications.
5. Matilda (1996)
With wide-angle lenses all but smooshing the actors up against the other side of the screen, Danny DeVito's whimsical fable is almost literally in your face. From the antic-plus performances to the merry-go-round score, everything about the movie feels like it's trying too hard to be "fun." The story of a bright little girl who develops mystical powers after being ridiculed, it's like a manic tween version of "Carrie," only with less pig's blood.
4. James & the Giant Peach (1996)
Movies don't usually get more humane when you swap their flesh-and-blood cast for stop-motion puppets, but Henry Selick's mixed-media adaptation soars once its hero climbs inside a giant airborne peach and animation replaces live action. The shifts between formats can be ungainly, but there are moments of sorrowful beauty that touch something truly profound.
3. The BFG (2016)
There's a hint of Spielberg-by-numbers to this story of the friendship between a young orphan girl and a friendly, dream-crafting giant, but a motion-captured Mark Rylance is wondrous as the malaprop-prone Big Friendly Giant, who manages to seem delicate despite his size. The third act, which involves a visit to Buckingham Palace and a military raid on giant country, tips into unalloyed silliness, but Rylance and newcomer Ruby Barnhill forge a bond that will have you watching flatulent corgis through tear-rimmed eyes.
2. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Watched with adult eyes, Mel Stuart's candy-coated adventure looks awfully threadbare in spots, but the movie got one thing gloriously, unequivocally right in casting Gene Wilder as its impish misanthrope. Like an Everlasting Gobstopper, Wilder's always changing, from light to dark, sweet to sour, and if the movie sometimes struggles to keep up with him, Stuart was wise enough to step back and let his star craft his most iconic performance.
1. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
When it comes to Roald Dahl adaptations, there's Wes Anderson's, and then there's everyone else's. Stop-motion animation was a logical step for one of the movies' great miniaturists, and the animal-kingdom setting softens the harshness of Dahl's worldview, which on screen often hardens into grotesquerie and cynicism. Like most of Anderson's movies, "Mr. Fox" hides serious melancholy beneath its lacquered surface, just as Dahl's whimsy mingles with the macabre.