Matilda (1996)

Last night, I attended our high school’s presentation of Matilda, the musical play from 2010 with songs written by Tim Minchin. The kids did exceptionally well. Of course, the movie Matilda the Musical was one of my favorite movies of 2022. All this led me to Netflix today to re-watch the original film from 1996 that had been based upon the book by Roald Dahl.

Directed by Danny DeVito, Matilda (Mara Wilson) was an unwanted young girl by her mean-spirited father Harry Wormwood (Danny DeVito), her selfish mother Zinnia Wormwood (Rhea Perlman) and her brother Michael (Brian Levinson). Matilda spent the first part of her childhood taking care of herself and learning anything she could. When she was finally sent to school, Matilda wound up in the classroom of the sweet Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz). Unfortunately, the school’s principal, Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris), a former Olympic athlete in hammer throw and shotput, was cruel and vicious toward the children. Trunchbull ruled with fear and violence, sending the children she wanted punished to a closet called “the Chokey.”

It had been a long time since I have see this version of Matilda, and I would not be honest if I did not say that the memory of the outstanding musical film, also currently on Netflix, did not affect my viewing of this movie. I remember a couple of times waiting for the song to start, even though I knew that there would be no singing or dancing.

Mara Wilson does a very good job as the titular character. This version spent more time with Matilda prior to her attending school and had more scenes with her mom and dad. Danny DeVito, who also was the narrator of the film, shows the rotten side of Mr. Wormwood throughout the story. Rhea Perlman stood out of the cast as the dingbat wife too. DeVito and Perlman who are married had a strong connection here.

The secondary children characters did not receive much attention here. There was the cake scene with Bruce (Jimmy Karz), but after that seminal scene, we get very little about Bruce. Matilda’s best friend Lavender (Kiami Davael) had a few cute moments, but she is there for just a touch. The children in Matilda the Musical receive much more scene time and are developed into deeper characters.

Pam Ferris was outstanding as Agatha Trunchbull, setting the bar high for the cruel bully type character. Sure, much of the film requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief, Trunchbull remains as one of the top antagonist characters in fiction.

This film does a better job at developing the telekinesis shown by Matilda. We see Matilda practicing it in several scenes before she uses it in a confrontation with Trunchbull.

Matilda (1996) is funny and develops its main characters very well, but the school scenes were not as important feeling since so much of the early film dealt with Matilda’s home life. Still, the outstanding performance by Pam Ferris put a fearful face on the challenge in the story. While I absolutely prefer the recent musical version, Matilda (1996) is a ton of fun and provides an odd tale from the mind of Roald Dahl.

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