This Christmas, Netflix is bringing Roald Dahl’s timeless classic, Matilda, back to the big screen. However, this new adaptation is worlds away from the 1996 film starring Mara Wilson, Danny Devito, and Rhea Pearlman. Rather than a simple adaptation of the book, this is the film version of the Tony and Olivier award-winning Matilda the Musical that ran on Broadway between 2013-2017.
It’s the same little genius who taught us all as kids that living well is the best revenge, with an incredible soundtrack penned by musician and comedian Tim Minchin that’s sure to stick with you long after the credits roll.
From the looks of the trailer, the story isn’t altogether different from the one so many of us grew up reading: Matilda Wormwood (Alisha Weir) is an extraordinary young girl born into an extraordinarily awful family. The daughter of a crooked used car salesman (Stephen Graham) and a ditzy, self centered housewife (Andrea Riseborough), from an early age she shows clear signs of an alarmingly brilliant mind – one that her shallow and thoughtless parents completely disregard. Despite the bleak and abusive environment she grows up in, Matilda is a resilient child that learns to fend for herself and strikes out into the world very young to learn all she can. Nurtured by the likes of librarian Mrs. Phelps (Sindhu Vee) and the books that Mrs. Phelps gives her access to, Matilda’s ravenous mind soaks up all it can. In the process, she develops an early sense of justice … much to her parents’ chagrin as every major slight they strike her with she learns to return in kind.
This well developed gift for extracting revenge follows Matilda as she is sent to a school whose headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson) is legendary for her sadistic punishments and overly strict rules. In this bleak place, however, Matilda finds further sanctuary in a class taught by the kind and attentive Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch), who is dazzled by Matilda’s intellect and personality. As Miss Honey fights to try and get Matilda placed in a more advanced class to give her a suitable intellectual challenge, Matilda takes on a few fights of her own: namely, against the unjust and cruel Miss Trunchbull. Through her trials, Matilda discovers that she possesses a unique ability to move objects with her powerful mind, and when given the chance to save Miss Honey from her own terrible circumstances, brings this ability into battle against a foe far bigger than her parents, and far more terrible than even the fearsome punishment closet known as the Chokey.
The overall look of the trailer fits in quite well with the whimsical and not-quite-of-this-world atmosphere of the original story, even moreso than the 1996 adaptation. There are some parts of the original story that appear to be missing, namely the presence of Michael Wormwood, Matilda’s brother (also missing from the 1996 film). It does leave something lacking, as one of the reasons Matilda was treated so cruelly by her parents was the fact that they doted on their horrifically average son and scorned their daughter. What the movie lacks in source material elements, however, it makes up for in style, something that makes it feel far truer to the book with its over the top exaggeration and the outright harshness of the school.
One of the most amazing parts of this movie should be, without question, Emma Thompson. Along with her chameleon-like transformation into the severe and easy to hate Miss Trunchbull, she pulls off the demeanor quite well. As she marvels that little Matilda Wormwood had the unmitigated gall to say ‘no’ to her, I found myself easily fitting her into my head as the personification of the character from my repeated childhood readings of the story. Alisha Weir is also a delight as Matilda, brassy and sharp as a whip, and the chemistry she has with Lashana Lynch’s Miss Honey is heartbreakingly sweet.
Matilda the Musical will be available in select theaters and on Netflix this coming Christmas. Will you be watching? If so, be prepared for a wild ride, and remember: No Sniveling!
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.