Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical
MOVIE | Well-acted, superbly crafted British musical offers a celebration of children and babies
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➤ Rated PG
➤ S2 / V4 / L3*
Nothing strikes fear in a child’s heart like a confrontation with the school principal—ahem, so I’ve heard. In Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, an adaption of the 2011 stage musical by the same name, Agatha Trunchbull (Emma Thompson), Crunchem Hall Primary School’s tyrannical headmistress, turns the intimidating-principal dial up to 11. While students past and present may laugh at Trunchbull’s caricatured nastiness, social progressives watching this superbly crafted film will likely squirm in their seats from the very first scene.
The film opens in an English maternity ward with a musical number celebrating babies. Newborn after newborn, including two with Down syndrome, grace the screen while a child sings, “My mummy says I’m a miracle.” A dancing doctor chimes in: “Every life I bring into this world restores my faith in mankind.”
Not everyone loves children, though. The self-absorbed Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough) have despised their only child, Matilda (Alisha Weir), since before her birth, and they abuse her. Mr. Wormwood, who had hoped for a boy, always refers to his daughter as a boy. A direct allegation or not, the film associates gender confusion with villainous parenting.
Despite her dreadful upbringing, Matilda has a sharp mind and seeks to “change her story”—forge a new life. She befriends traveling librarian Mrs. Phelps (Sindhu Vee), to whom she relates installments of a dramatic tale she’s concocting about an “escapologist” and his pregnant daredevil wife. In this tale, a circus audience applauds when the couple announces the cancellation of a dangerous stunt because it might harm their unborn baby.
Matilda’s parents allow her to enroll at Crunchem, a place she finds more sinister than home. Trunchbull runs Crunchem like a prison and metes out severe punishment for any infraction of the rules.
“To teach the child, we must first break the child,” Trunchbull croons. She then bares the depths of her malice. “Imagine a world with no children … try it. The peace and the quiet.”
The school’s one ray of light is Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch), who nurtures her students but also trembles under Trunchbull’s brutality. The film ingeniously interweaves Matilda’s plight, flashbacks of Miss Honey’s own Dickensian childhood, and Matilda’s imaginative tale.
Matilda is a real trip: lush sets, gaudy costumes, and outsized performances from younger and older cast members alike. The film contains a few mild obscenities, and depictions of verbal and physical abuse of children often exceed what can be considered comical.
The songs’ melodies aren’t so catchy, but viewers might want subtitles to savor all the clever lyrics shrouded in British accents.
*Ratings from kids-in-mind.com, with quantity of sexual (S), violent (V), and foul language (L) content on a 0-10 scale, with 10 high
- The Wizard of Oz / 1939
- Cinderella / 1950
- Sleeping Beauty / 1959
- The Princess Bride / 1987
- Beauty and the Beast / 1991
- Hook / 1991
- Aladdin / 1992
- Enchanted / 2007
- Tangled / 2010
- Brave / 2012
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