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The work of author Roald Dahl has been adapted many times in cinema history, from the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to the fantastic stop-motion animated James and the Giant Peach, to the startlingly creepy The Witches. As a result, you'd think that any filmmaker working on a new big-screen version of a Dahl story would reflect on these features for reference, but those projects weren't the main focus for director Steven Spielberg in the making of the upcoming The BFG. Instead, he actually found that The Wizard of Oz was most helpful in wrapping his brain around the fantasy tale, interestingly seeing the story as a different take on the relationship between Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion.
During a press day for The BFG in Los Angeles earlier this month, Steven Spielberg and his young star Ruby Barnhill were paired for a roundtable interview with a group of film reporters, and it was while discussing the appeal of the Roald Dahl story that the filmmaker revealed the other piece of fiction that helped inspire his most recent work. Spielberg noted that a big part of what interested him in the book was the fact that it has a female protagonist, and it was while moving the project through development that he started seeing connections between The BFG and The Wizard of Oz. Said Spielberg,
The protagonist was going to allow us at a certain point to believe that four feet tall can completely outrank a 25 foot giant, and I got very excited that this was going to be a little girl's story and her courage and her values were going to, in a way, turn the cowardly lion into the great hero at the end - which is what she turns BFG into. I saw all kinds of Wizard of Oz comparisons when I was first reading the book, and I said, 'Here's a real chance to do a story about Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion, just the two of them.'
One could even take this a step further, noting that both The BFG and The Wizard of Oz are both stories about a little girl who finds herself transported from the normal world to one of fantasy, where she must help the forces of good defeat an evil, oppressive force that is making life terrible in the magical realm (the mean, child-eating giants in one, the Wicked Witch of the West in the other). These themes and character-types obviously appear in other great works of fiction as well, but Roald Dahl's work and the great L. Frank Baum tale clearly have a good amount in common.
While there certainly are similarities between The BFG and The Wizard of Oz, the Steven Spielberg film is very much a special creation, and it won't be long until you'll have the chance to see it for yourself. Families everywhere should definitely mark their calendars, as the new movie will be in theaters this Friday, July 1st.