|Directed by||Danny DeVito|
by Roald Dahl
|Narrated by||Danny DeVito|
|Music by||David Newman|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Entertainment|
|Box office||$33.5 million|
Matilda is a 1996 American fantasy comedy film co-produced and directed by Danny DeVito from a screenplay by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, based on the 1988 novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. The film stars Mara Wilson as the title character, with DeVito (who also served a dual role as the narrator), Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, and Pam Ferris in supporting roles. The plot centers on the titular child prodigy who develops psychokinetic abilities and uses them to deal with her disreputable family and the tyrannical principal of her school.
Matilda was released in the United States on August 2, 1996, by Sony Pictures Releasing. The film received positive reviews from critics, with praise being directed towards its faithfulness to the novel and DeVito's direction. By box office standards, the film was commercially unsuccessful, grossing $33.5 million in the United States on a $36 million budget. However, it did achieve greater success when it was released on VHS.
Six-year-old genius Matilda Wormwood is neglected and mistreated by her used car salesman father Harry, her stay-at-home mother Zinnia, and her older brother Michael. Smart and independent, she finds solace in the fictional worlds of books at the public library. When Matilda's parents refuse to embrace her intellect or enroll her into school, she puts bleach in her father's hair tonic and glues his hat to his head. After a restaurant trip goes wrong, Harry catches Matilda reading Moby-Dick (borrowed from the library), rips it up, and forces her to watch a game show on television. Matilda becomes increasingly enraged until the television explodes.
Harry sells a car to Miss Trunchbull, the tyrannical principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School, in exchange for admitting Matilda as a student. Upon her first day, Matilda meets other students who warn her about Trunchbull's abusive methods of discipline, which include throwing students out the window and locking them in the "chokey", a small cramped closet resembling an iron maiden. Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, notices the ease with which Matilda answers middle school multiplication problems and requests Matilda be moved to a higher class, but Trunchbull refuses. The Wormwoods also ignore and insult Miss Honey when she visits them to discuss Matilda's potential to attend college early. Trunchbull has the whole school watch her force a senior student named Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an entire enormous chocolate cake as punishment for stealing a slice from the school kitchen; Matilda leads the junior and senior students in cheering Bruce to success, and Trunchbull gives them all five hours detention as a punishment. Matilda discovers her father is under surveillance by the FBI over his illegal dealings, but her parents refuse to believe her when she warns them.
After discovering the car Harry sold her was faulty, Trunchbull locks Matilda in the chokey as punishment. While Miss Honey rescues Matilda, the latter's friend Lavender Brown puts a newt in Trunchbull's water jug. Trunchbull accuses Matilda, who, in anger at the injustice, telekinetically tips the glass over, splashing the newt onto Trunchbull. Feeling sympathy for Matilda, Miss Honey invites her to her house for tea after school and reveals her past: her mother died when she was two, and her father Magnus invited his wife's stepsister, Trunchbull, to live with them and look after her, but Trunchbull abused her. Magnus died, apparently by suicide, three years later, supposedly leaving everything in his will to Trunchbull. Matilda and Miss Honey sneak into Trunchbull's house to retrieve some of Miss Honey's belongings, but narrowly escape when Trunchbull unexpectedly returns early.
Matilda practices her telekinetic powers and thwarts the FBI agents to buy Harry time to come to his senses. She returns to Trunchbull's house to retrieve a doll from Miss Honey's childhood and to force Trunchball out of the house by posing as the vengeful spirit of Magnus, but she accidentally leaves behind her hair ribbon. The next day, Matilda returns the doll to Miss Honey and reveals her powers to her. When Trunchbull visits the class to makes the students confess, Miss Honey stands up for the house incident and reveals her secret, shocking the students. Matilda telekinetically writes a message on the blackboard, once again posing as the spirit of Magnus and demanding that Trunchbull give Miss Honey her house and her money back, and to leave the town, accusing her of murdering him.
Trunchbull attacks the class at random in a rage, but Matilda protects them. The Crunchem Hall student body witnesses the situation and organize a food fight to force Trunchbull out of the school. After Miss Honey moves back into her house, Harry, Zinnia, and Michael come to collect Matilda and flee to Guam to avoid the FBI. Matilda refuses to go, saying she would rather be adopted by Miss Honey. Her parents are initially reluctant but her mother apologizes for never understanding her only daughter. Desperate to leave, the parents sign the adoption papers and Matilda lives happily with Miss Honey, who becomes the new principal of Crunchem Hall and the two eventually become a loving family.
- Mara Wilson as Matilda Wormwood; a young, savvy, well-mannered, intelligent 6½-year-old girl whose powers can make anything possible, Miss Honey's adoptive daughter towards the end.
- Alissa and Amanda Graham as Newborn Matilda Wormwood
- Kayla and Kelsey Fredericks as 9-month-old Matilda Wormwood
- Amanda and Caitlin Fein as 2-year-old Matilda Wormwood
- Sara Michelle Magdalin as 4-year-old Matilda Wormwood
- Embeth Davidtz as Miss Honey; the kind and devoted teacher at Crunchem Hall who inspires Matilda to believe in the power of what is inside, Matilda's adoptive mother towards the end.
- Amanda and Kristin Summers as 2-year-old Jennifer Honey
- Phoebe Pearl as 5-year-old Jennifer Honey
- Pam Ferris as Agatha Trunchbull; Jennifer Honey's abusive aunt, and also the cruel and selfish principal at Crunchem Hall; she is a former Olympian athlete, and uses her strengths—shot put, hammer throw, and javelin—to hurt the children at the school. She also likes putting them in the Chokey, a small closet similar to an iron maiden with many nails sticking in it and broken glass shards.
- Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood; Zinnia's husband, Matilda and Michael's father, and a grumpy, hateful and abusive crooked car salesman.
- DeVito also narrated the film.
- Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood; Harry's wife, Matilda and Michael's neglectful and selfish mother, and a vain and cheery bingo-obsessed parent.
- Paul Reubens and Tracey Walter as Bob and Bill; two FBI agents posing as speedboat salesmen who are investigating Harry due to his illegal car business.
- Brian Levinson as Michael Wormwood; Harry and Zinnia's bratty son and Matilda's older brother, who bullies her, throws food at her, and calls her "dip-face".
- Nicholas Cox as 6-year-old Michael Wormwood
- Kiami Davael as Lavender; Matilda's best friend and fellow classmate.
- Jacqueline Steiger as Amanda Thripp; Matilda's timid classmate who has pigtails which Miss Trunchbull hates.
- Jimmy Karz as Bruce Bogtrotter; Matilda's gluttonous senior classmate who gets abused by Miss Trunchbull for eating her chocolate cake.
- Kira Spencer Hesser as Hortensia; a senior schoolmate who warns Matilda about the Trunchbull.
- Jean Speegle Howard as Mrs. Phelps; the librarian who gives books to Matilda and is fascinated by and encourages her love of reading.
- Marion Dugan as Cookie; the elderly, repulsive, school cook who makes chocolate cake and is loyal to Miss Trunchbull. There are certain behaviors of hers that the students might find repulsive. She licks the snot from her nose in front of the students when Miss Trunchbull tells Bruce the cook's "sweat and blood went into this cake." The children reply "eww" in disgust. She also scratches her bottom as she leaves the auditorium.
- Jon Lovitz as Mickey, the host of a vapid game show called The Million Dollar Sticky.
In November 1993, it was announced that Universal Pictures had won a screen adaptation of Matilda by Roald Dahl, written by writers Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, following a heated bidding war between Universal and Columbia Pictures. Following disagreements between Danny Devito and Bregman-Baer Productions over budgetary concerns, Universal put Matilda into turnaround, with Columbia's TriStar Pictures picking up the project.
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) as well as the voice of the Glowworm in James and the Giant Peach, also released in 1996.
Pam Ferris (Miss Trunchbull) incurred several injuries during the production of the film. The climactic scene where she is whacked by blackboard rubbers 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 seven or eight 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.
Suzie Wilson, Mara Wilson's mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 1995 during filming, and later died on April 27, 1996, four months before the film's release. The film was dedicated to her memory. DeVito revealed that, prior to her death, he had shown her the final edit of the movie so that she was able to see Mara's performance.
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' "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.
Matilda was released on August 2, 1996. It made $8.5 million at the box office, ranking in third place behind A Time to Kill and Independence Day. The film grossed $33.5 million in the United States against a production budget of $36 million.
The film was released on VHS in pan and scan and LaserDisc in widescreen on December 17, 1996, from Columbia TriStar Home Video. In 1997, it was released on a bare-bones dual sided DVD containing fullscreen and widescreen. Another DVD rendition with more special features was released in 2005. In August 2013, Wilson and most of her costars from the film had a reunion to celebrate its 17th anniversary and it being released on Blu-ray. The reunion was featured on the Blu-ray release. On Sepember 5th, 2023 a 4K Blu-Ray version of the film was released with Dolby Vision and HDR10 grades and an Atmos audio mix.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Matilda has an approval rating of 92% based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. 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." Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B+" on scale of A to F. Writing for Empire, Caroline Westbrook gave the film a rating of three stars and praised DeVito's clever direction.
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.
In November 2019, DeVito said that he "always wanted to" develop a sequel to Matilda, adding that a potential sequel could star Matilda's child, due to Wilson having grown up following the film's release.
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