Review by Steve Rhodes|
3 stars out of 4
One of the great novelists of children's books is Roald Dahl.
This Spring we got to see an animated movie of his JAMES AND THE GIANT
PEACH and loved it. We had a friend who leant us the book, and Jeffrey
(age 7) and I spent many a wonderful night this summer reading it.
With that in mind, we looked forward to a new movie, MATILDA, based on
another of Dahl's books.
MATILDA is a live action film with Danny DeVito as the producer,
director, and one of the stars. Between the two recent Dahl movies, it
would be hard to pick my favorite. Finally, I should point out that
the best movie ever made from a Dahl book has to be 1971's WILLY WONKA
AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. I think I have seen that movie at least a
half dozen times. I've got to write a review of it someday.
In MATILDA, Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson) is born to the worst
parents imaginable. On the way out of the hospital, father and
fraudulent used car salesman Harry (Danny DeVito) says of the hospital
bill, "five thousand dollars! I'm not going to pay it. What are they
going to do? Repossess the child?"
Since her father and her mother Zinnia (Rhea Perlman) leave her at
home all day from age four on, she becomes independent and an
exceptional reader. Having only newspapers and magazines to read, she
dares one night to interrupt the family's nightly rendezvous with their
beloved television to ask a favor. She asks her father for a book, and
astonished, he demands, "A book. Why do you want a book?" She meekly
answers, "to read," He sets her straight with, "there's nothing you can
get from a book that you can't get from a television faster."
Although the book interchange is extremely funny, I reflected on
the fact that libraries are reducing their hours at the same time that
the average family spends something like three to four hours a day
watching television so people's actions are closer to Harry's than
Her father is the boss. When he gives her orders, he ridicules
her with, "I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're little. And
there's nothing you can do about it." Soon she strikes back. She puts
super super glue on his hat so it will stick to his head and generally
makes his life miserable. Dahl is not your sweetness and light author.
His characters have to learn to survive in a hostile world, and they do
it with style, imagination, and cunning.
Matilda gets sent to a school run by principal Agatha Trunchbull
(Pam Ferris). Trunchbull is a classic villain. She looks, dresses,
and walks like a Nazi commandant. The principal and the parents are
all done as near perfect parody. The costumes by Jane Ruhm add
immensely to their tacky and overbearing images. The wide-angle
camerawork by Cinematographer Stefan Czapsky is effective at
accentuating the evil in Matilda's young life.
Too often kid's shows go awry by not casting effective villains.
Here Ferris is great as every kid's worst nightmare. She gets some
tough lines like, "Use the rod and beat the child, that is my motto."
She tells the kids that, "My idea of a perfect school is one in which
there are no children." Her school's motto is, "If you are having fun,
you are not learning."
If Trunchbull gets angry at kids, she throws them out of the
window. In typical Dahl fashion, children so discharged manage to pick
flowers for their wonderful and sensitive teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey
The star of show is the charming and marvelous child actress Mara
Wilson. You may have seen her strength and her screen presence before
in 1993's MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET or 1992's MRS. DOUBTFIRE. I hope she
makes many more films.
I liked all of the cast. Beside the ones already mentioned, Paul
Reubens, a. k. a., Pee Wee Herman, plays an FBI agent trying to bust
Harry. I do wish DeVito had not narrated the picture. I found it too
jarring having Harry out of character when he was the narrator.
I loved the show from beginning to end. I found myself clapping
sometimes and then laughing out loud. It has an infectiously happy
MATILDA runs a fast 1:33. It is rated PG. There are a few
situations that might scare kids under 4 or 5, but the language is
pretty mild, and there is no sex, nudity, or violence unless you count
the cartoonish violence of kids being thrown out the window. Jeffrey
loves the show and gives it three thumbs up. I recommend the movie to
you and give it ***. I almost gave it a little more.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes