Matilda (PG)

Directed by Danny DeVito
Starring Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Pam Ferris, Embeth Davidtz.

Roald Dahl's book gets the big screen treatment very successfully thanks to DeVito's eye for comedy and a delightful performance from top moppet Mara Wilson. Like the best family films, this really has as much for adults to enjoy as children.
Matilda is unlucky enough to be the outstandingly bright daughter of two white trash low lifes(DeVito and real life wife Perlman.) She teaches herself to read, while her family crowd around the TV. Eventually, she is sent to school, but there the fearsome Miss Trunchbull(Ferris) the child throwing tyrant, rules. Matilda's class teacher, Miss Honey(Davidtz) sees her potential, but they have to overcome Miss Trunchbull and Matilda's ingnorant parents.
Roald Dahl's book has been translated to the screen well. The black comedy that is such a crucial part of his books and of his monstrous villains is part of what makes this film work so well. Pam Ferris is superb as the headmistress from hell, throwing children through windows, and using her hammer throwing talents on an unfortunate pig tailed girl. Her lines are amongst the funniest, and Ferris shows no redeeming qualities in her character.
I did feel the film lost its way a bit when Matilda and Miss Honey get trapped in Miss Trunchbull's house and end up doing a bit of Home Alone trickery to escape. The revenge on Miss Trunchbull is OK, but the first half of the film is definitely the stronger.
Mara Wilson is just perfect as Matilda. She is very cute without being sickly, and her sweet features are ideal for this character. DeVito and Perlman have fun as the callous parents who don't know how old she is and even get her name wrong! I would say DeVito and Dahl are a good combination. Roald Dahl's book need a touch of savagery about them, and definitely NO sentimentality- something that almost ruined Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, although ther were lots of other things that ruined that film. DeVito's brand of black humour, as seen in War of the Roses, is perfect here. A fun film. 7/10.

January 1997

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