Matilda (1996 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"Matilda (film)" redirects here. For the unrelated 1978 film, see Matilda (1978 film). For the title character, see Matilda Wormwood.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Danny DeVito
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on Matilda
1988 novel 
by Roald Dahl
Narrated by Danny DeVito
Music by David Newman
Cinematography Stefan Czapsky
Edited by
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
  • August 2, 1996 (1996-08-02)
Running time
98 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $36 million[2][3]
Box office $62 million[4]

Matilda is a 1996 American fantasy comedy film directed by Danny DeVito. The screenplay by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord is based on Roald Dahl's novel of the same name. The film was released by TriStar Pictures on August 2, 1996 and stars Mara Wilson, DeVito (who also serves as the narrator), Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, and Pam Ferris.


Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson) is an intelligent girl with a bright personality, but her parents, Harry and Zinnia (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman), neglect and mistreat her. When she reaches four, she discovers the local library and walks there every day to read while her father is at work, her mother playing bingo and her older brother, Michael (Brian Levinson), is at school.

By age six-and-a-half, Matilda begins to lose patience with her parents. In retaliation for her father's constant lecturing, she mixes his hair tonic with her mother's hair dye, which turns his hair an unhealthy blonde. He takes his children to his workshop, where he reveals that the cars he sells are faulty. Matilda accuses him of being dishonest and he belittles her, so she responds by putting super-super-glue in his hat, forcing Zinnia to cut it off. She reads a borrowed library copy of Moby Dick, which Harry then tears up, calling it filth, reacting to the title while her family is watching television. When he tries to force her to watch with them, she grows increasingly angry and the television suddenly explodes.

Agatha Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) is the principal of a run-down preparatory school, Crunchem Hall. Harry enrolls Matilda there, where she befriends several children and learns of Trunchbull's violent nature and overtly harsh punishments of the students. Matilda's teacher, Jennifer Honey (Embeth Davidtz), is a kind woman who adores her class and takes an immediate liking to Matilda. She talks to Trunchbull and requests that Matilda be moved up to a higher class, but she refuses. Miss Honey pays Matilda's parents a visit and requests that they pay more attention to and enrich her, but they don't care enough to listen. Meanwhile, Matilda discovers that her family is under surveillance by FBI agents (Paul Reubens and Tracey Walter) due to her father's illegal dealings, but her parents refuse to believe her.

Sometime later, Trunchbull goes to Miss Honey's class for a weekly "check-up" and starts to belittle the students. As a prank, Lavender (one of Matilda's friends) places a newt in Miss Trunchbull's water jug to frighten her. Upon discovery of the newt, Trunchbull accuses Matilda, whose anger at the injustice leads her to telekinetically tip the glass over, splashing water and the newt on Trunchbull. Miss Honey invites Matilda to her house for tea. On the way, they pass the house of Trunchbull, and Miss Honey reveals her secret; when she was two years old, her mother died, so her father, Magnus, invited his sister-in-law, Trunchbull, to live with them and look after Miss Honey. However, she mistreated and abused her at every opportunity. When Miss Honey was five, her father died of an apparent suicide. Eventually, she moved out of her aunt's house and into a small cottage. She and Matilda briefly sneak into Trunchbull's house while she is out in order to obtain some of Miss Honey's belongings, but her unexpected return leads to a cat-and-mouse chase, with them only barely escaping.

When Matilda's telekinetic powers manifest again during an argument with Harry, she trains herself to use them at her own will. She returns to Trunchbull's house, wreaking havoc in an attempt to scare her away, repeatedly causing her clock to strike the hour, opening the windows, and turning the lights on and off. She almost flees, but she finds Matilda's hair ribbon and realizes that she was there. The next day, Trunchbull visits Miss Honey's class again to get Matilda to admit her guilt. She uses her powers to write a message on the blackboard, posing as the ghost of Magnus, and accusing Trunchbull of murdering him. She attacks the students, but Matilda keeps them out of harm's way with her powers, and they force her out of the school. Miss Honey moves back into her true home.

The FBI finally uncovers enough evidence to prosecute Harry, and the Wormwoods prepare to flee to Guam. They stop by Miss Honey's house to pick up Matilda, but she refuses to go with them. In that moment, Zinnia laments on her guilt and regret in not understanding her daughter better. She and Harry sign the adoption papers that allow Miss Honey to adopt her. They escape, while Matilda lives a happy life with Miss Honey, who, in addition to her teaching duties, becomes the new principal.


  • Mara Wilson as Matilda Wormwood
    • Alissa and Amanda Graham, Trevor and James Gallagher as Matilda - newborn
    • Kayla and Kelsey Fredericks as Matilda - 9 months
    • Amanda and Caitlin Fein as Matilda - toddler
    • Sara Magdalin as Matilda - 4 years
  • Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood
    • DeVito also narrates the film.
  • Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood
  • Embeth Davidtz as Miss Jennifer "Jenny" Honey
    • Amanda and Kristyn Summers as Miss Honey - 2 years
    • Phoebe Pearl as Miss Honey - 5 years
  • Pam Ferris as Agatha Trunchbull
  • Brian Levinson as Michael Wormwood
    • Nicholas Cox as Michael - 6 years
  • Paul Reubens as FBI Agent Bob
  • Tracey Walter as FBI Agent Bill
  • Kiami Davael as Lavender
  • Jacqueline Steiger as Amanda Thripp
  • Kira Spencer Hesser as Hortensia
  • Jimmy Karz as Bruce Bogtrotter
  • Jean Speegle Howard as Miss Phelps
  • Marion Dugan as Cookie
  • Emily Eby as Maggie
  • Jon Lovitz as Mickey, host of The Million Dollar Sticky


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.


The film received critical acclaim at the time of its release. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a "fresh" rating of 90%.[5] In the United States, it earned $33 million in contrast to its $36 million budget.[2][3] It fared better during its worldwide release and ended up earning back nearly double its original budget[citation needed] as well as on home video and television.

Home media[edit]

In 2013, Wilson and her former costars from the film had a reunion to celebrate its 17th anniversary and it being released on Blu-ray.[6] The reunion scene was featured in the Blu-ray release.[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Satellite Awards
    • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical (Danny DeVito)
  • Young Artist Award
    • Best Performance in a Feature Film — Leading Young Actress (Mara Wilson)
    • Best Performance in a Feature Film — Supporting Young Actress (Kira Spencer Hesser)

The film was submitted for an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, but wasn't nominated.


External links[edit]