Director Matthew Warchus spins a tale that’s fun and philosophical, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the 2010 musical that innately understood what Roald Dahl was trying to tell with his story. This is what prevents it from being great. There's also a commentary to be made on showbiz about Roald Dahl’s beloved book first getting adapted into a film, then into a musical, then again into a film, but that’s a conversation best left for another time.
What I can say though is that as the first of the many films that will surely arrive on Netflix as part of the streaming service’s overall contract with the Roald Dahl Story Company, Matilda is a great start. Alisha Weir plays our telekinetic protagonist and portrays the character perfectly. In a cast full of veteran actors, the little star shines brightly. I hope this movie will open more opportunities for the little actress going forward.
But the team of the experienced supporting cast deserves their flowers for carrying this movie through its highs and lows as well. Lashana Lynch as Miss Honey, Stephen Graham as Mr. Wormwood, Andrea Riseborough as Mrs. Wormwood, and Emma Thompson as Agatha Trunchbull get the actual bulk work done.
Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are delightful and seem to be having loads of fun portraying the evil parents. The same can be said for Andrea Riseborough’s over-the-top performance as the monstrous Trunchbull. While Lashana Lynch is a marvel to watch, her simpering and cowering Miss Honey is a departure from Embeth Jean Davidtz’s 1996 willful version. The other children who are a part of the cast also elevate the movie.
The musical numbers are delightful and easy to watch as well as croon along. I especially loved the “When I Grow Up” number that illustrates Matilda growing up and encountering a world that can be cruel but also kind. It’s a song that coincides well with the choice to cast a 13-year-old in the titular role, someone who is also on the cusp of young adulthood.
The costumes are garish and help accentuate the otherworldly whimsical and absurd tone that takes over the film when the musical numbers play out. What also intrigued me was the plot point that Matilda narrates, which ultimately connects back to Miss Honey.
The one serious drawback of the movie is that it doesn't really delve into the depth of the darkness that permeated Dahl’s novel. It instead takes on a more positive and uplifting tone. But it can be argued that it’s the film’s attempt to cushion children from the horrors that await them. As for the comparison with 2010 musical that had even a spot at Broadway, it doesn’t hit the sort of magical realism it was imbibed with, even with the same director helming this Netflix project. But I just chalked these differences up as being the transitional differences between the two mediums. What works well on stage might not translate well to film.
Overall, Matilda The Musical is a good adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book and it does its characters and story justice. Give it a watch if you are reminiscing about the 1996 movie and Miss Honey.
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