Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Danny DeVito|
by Roald Dahl
|Music by||David Newman|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Box office||$33 million|
Matilda is a 1996 American family comedy-drama fantasy film co-produced, directed and narrated by Danny DeVito from a screenplay written by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord. Based on Roald Dahl's 1988 novel of the same name, the film stars Mara Wilson as the title character with DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, and Pam Ferris in supporting roles. The film centers on a young genius girl named Matilda Wormwood, who develops psychokinetic abilities and uses them to deal with her disreputable family and Agatha Trunchbull, the ruthless, oppressive and tyrannical principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School.
Produced by DeVito's Jersey Films and released theatrically in the United States on August 2, 1996 by TriStar Pictures, the film received predominantly positive reviews from critics but was a box office bomb, grossing only $33 million in the United States on a $36 million budget.
Young genius Matilda Wormwood is regularly neglected and mistreated by her parents, Harry and Zinnia, and her older brother, Michael. She is smart, independent and frequently goes to the public library where she finds solace in the fictional worlds found in the books. When Matilda's parents refuse to enroll her into school, she retaliates against them, first by adding hydrogen peroxide bleaching agent to her father's hair tonic and then by gluing his hat to his head. When Harry rips up the library's copy of Moby-Dick (which he finds offensive because of the title) and forces Matilda to watch television instead, Matilda becomes increasingly enraged until the television explodes.
One of Harry's car dealership customers is Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School. Harry sells her a car in exchange for her admitting Matilda as a pupil. At school, Matilda makes friends but discovers Trunchbull's harsh punishments of the students, while Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, takes a liking to Matilda due to her intelligence; Honey requests Matilda be moved up to a higher class, but Trunchbull refuses. Miss Honey tells the Wormwoods about Matilda's genius-level intellect, but they ignore her while Matilda discovers that her father is under surveillance by undercover FBI agents Bob and Bill (with whom Zinnia flirts) because of his illegal dealings. Her parents refuse to believe her as they assume that the agents are speedboat salesmen.
As a prank, one of Matilda's friends puts a newt in Trunchbull's water jug to scare her. Trunchbull accuses Matilda, whose anger at the injustice leads her to telekinetically tip the glass over, splashing the newt onto Trunchbull. However, Matilda is then unable to display her powers to Honey during a test run. Honey remarks that often one's confidence in themselves leads them to prove it to others, only to have them mess up. Honey invites Matilda over to her house for tea and reveals a secret: when she was two, her mother died and her father, a doctor, invited his wife’s stepsister, Miss Trunchbull, to live with them and look after her, but Trunchbull abused her; when Honey was five, her father died of an alleged suicide and left everything to Trunchbull. When Matilda and Honey sneak inside Trunchbull's house to obtain some of the latter's belongings, Trunchbull's sudden return prompts the duo to barely escape without getting caught.
Matilda trains her telekinetic power by making objects fly around the house and thwarting the FBI agents who threaten to put her in an orphanage. Having practiced her ability, she returns to Trunchbull's house in an attempt to scare her away with telekinesis, but Trunchbull discovers Matilda's presence upon finding her hair ribbon. The next day, Matilda reveals her powers to Honey but Trunchbull visits the class to make Matilda confess. Matilda magically writes a message on the blackboard, pretending to be the vengeful soul of Miss Honey's deceased father, Magnus, who accuses Trunchbull of murdering him. Trunchbull attacks the students, but Matilda keeps them safe and she and the other students force her out of the school for good, and Honey moves back into her true home.
The FBI uncovers enough evidence to prosecute Harry, forcing the Wormwoods to flee to Guam. They stop by Honey's home to fetch Matilda, who refuses to go with them and says she would rather be adopted by Honey; remorseful for never understanding her daughter, Zinnia and Harry both sign Matilda's adoption papers and Matilda lives happily with Honey, who then becomes the new principal of Crunchem Hall.
Miriam Margolyes confirmed that she auditioned for the role of Agatha Trunchbull during a filmed interview with Jo Brand for the UK television special Roald Dahl's Revolting Rule Book which was hosted by Richard E. Grant and aired on September 22, 2007. This documentary commemorated Dahl's 90th birthday and also celebrated his impact as a children's author in popular culture. Margolyes went on to play Aunt Sponge (another Dahl villainess) in James and the Giant Peach which was also released in 1996.
Pam Ferris (Miss Trunchbull) incurred several injuries during production on the film. The climactic scene where she is whacked by blackboard erasers required her to keep her eyes open, causing chalk dust to get caught in her eyes and necessitating several trips to the hospital to get her eyes washed out. The scene where Trunchbull whirls Amanda Thripp (Jacqueline Steiger) by her pigtails required a harness to support the little girl, the wires of which were threaded through the pigtails and then looped around Ferris's fingertips to give her grip. As she swung her around the centrifugal force grew too great and tore the top part of Ferris' finger, requiring 7 or 8 stitches.
The Crank House, in Altadena, stood in for Miss Trunchbull's house. The exterior of Matilda's house is located on Youngwood Drive in Whittier, while the library she visits is the Pasadena Public Library on East Walnut Street in Pasadena.
Mara Wilson's mother, Suzie Wilson, was diagnosed with breast cancer during filming and died 4 months before the film’s release. The film was dedicated to her memory. Danny DeVito revealed that prior to her death, he had shown her the final recording of the movie so that she was able to see Wilson’s performance in the movie.
Two songs are featured in the film. One of them, "Send Me on My Way" by Rusted Root, is played twice: when four-year-old Matilda is left alone at her house, making pancakes, and at the end of the film, set to a montage of Matilda and Miss Honey playing at Miss Trunchbull's former house. The other song is Thurston Harris's "Little Bitty Pretty One", played when Matilda is learning to control her telekinetic powers. The film's original score was composed by David Newman, a frequent collaborator of DeVito.
The film was released on August 2, 1996.
The film was released on VHS in pan and scan and LaserDisc in widescreen on December 10, 1996 from Columbia TriStar Home Video. In 1997, it was released on a bare-bones dual sided DVD containing fullscreen and widescreen.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Matilda holds an approval rating of 90% based on 21 reviews with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Danny DeVito-directed version of Matilda is odd, charming, and while the movie diverges from Roald Dahl, it nonetheless captures the book's spirit." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 72 out of 100 based on reviews from 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews."
Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times praised the film's oddity, giving it three stars out of a possible four and writing: "Trunchbull is the kind of villainess children can enjoy, because she is too ridiculous to be taken seriously and yet really is mean and evil, like the witch in Snow White. And since most children have at one time or another felt that their parents are not nice enough to them, they may also enjoy the portrait of Matilda's parents." Writing for Empire, Caroline Westbrook gave the film a rating of three stars and praised DeVito's clever direction.
|YoungStar Award||Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Comedy Film||Mara Wilson||Won|
|Cinekid Lion Audience Award||Best Director||Danny DeVito||Won|
|Oulu International Children's Film Festival Starboy Award||Won|
|Satellite Awards||Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical||Nominated|
|Young Artist Award||Best Performance in a Feature Film — Leading Young Actress||Mara Wilson||Nominated|
|Best Performance in a Feature Film — Supporting Young Actress||Kira Spencer Hesser||Nominated|
In 2019, director Danny DeVito said that he "always wanted to" develop a sequel to Matilda. DeVito said that a potential sequel could star Matilda's own child, due to actress Mara Wilson having grown up after the film's release.
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