Matilda Movie Poster

Title: Matilda
Screenwriter: Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord
Director: Danny DeVito
Release Date: August 2, 1996 (US)
Running Time: 98 minutes
Synopsis: A young genius named Matilda uses telekinesis to deal with her parents, who do not value education, and Agatha Trunchbull, the oppressive principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School.

American Unexceptionalism

I know people in general love Matilda, but I think it’s because they saw the movie as a kid and have never read the book. I’m sorry to be the one to ruin your childhood, but Matilda is another version of an American storyteller ruining the visionary imagination of a foreign mind. (Hello OldBoy and The Ring!) If you love the movie version of Matilda, and you want to keep that love alive, then go ahead and stay in your bubble. BUT! If you want to see the magic that could have been, then please do yourself and your dying inner child a favor and pick up the book and get to devouring!

Roald Dahl’s book is full of fun and wit that isn’t dumbed down just because it’s a children’s book, which is what I feel this movie did. Every movie divergence from the book made the movie more mediocre. The relationship between Trunchbull and Miss Honey was a pleasant twist while reading the book. The movie punches you in the face with it’s obviousness as soon as they are in the same room together. The book also didn’t beat you over the head about Mr. Wormwood’s illegal dealings, so the unexpected need for the Wormwood family to escape was another fun turn that made the book enjoyable. Even Matilda’s pranks played better in the book. I mean, where’s the parrot, Danny DeVito?!

Out of Character

Can we talk about how two-dimensional all the characters were? This version of Trunchbull was way too over the top for me in a very bad way. Yes, she is the leader of a school while openly hating children, so of course she would do everything in her power to make their lives miserable, but she was also just a bully in general because even the parents were afraid of her since she was an upstanding member of the community. The movie turned her into a dim-witted jock who is part bloodhound. Where is the nuance? We know Matilda is a smart girl who is most likely a genius, but she is also a kid who enjoys playing with the friends she finally got to make in school.

Instead of beating us over the head with Matilda, girl genius, telling her parents the FBI agents posed as boat salesmen are actually cops, why not show us the development of her friendship with Lavender. Why are we not shown the dichotomy of Matilda? Above all else, I HATED how the movie handled Matilda’s “powers.” She is not a mutant or inhuman who just came into abilities and is able to move objects with the flick of the wrist. Matilda is able to perform unexplainable miracles that require a lot of concentration and take her mind to some place beyond the stars, and this ability is short-lived once she moves into a higher grade level and has to used that brain power to complete more challenging assignments, as hypothesized by Miss Honey. I was disappointed that Matilda glossed over such an important aspect of the story.

Overall Opinion

Matilda looked dated and quickly detoured from the fun romp I expected after reading the book.

The Final Grade

Burnt Popcorn: The movie murdered the smart humor from the book and killed me not at all softly with its literal interpretation of juvenile.

Your Turn

So…is Matilda one of your favorite movies from your childhood? Did you enjoy an American movie adaption of a British book? Who would you prank with the power of telekinesis? Let us know in the comments! |RL

P.S. Want more Matilda? Read the book review! Join the quotefest!


  1. Growing up, I actually read the book before I saw the movie. I love them both, though I would definitely put the book first. Roald Dahl is just an amazing writer!
    I know I used to prefer the movie’s ending to the book’s (don’t want to say what exactly because of spoilers), probably because the movie’s seemed happier, but looking back I can appreciate the book’s ending and the meaning behind it a lot more.

    1. Katisha @ Reel Literature

      I only saw the movie when I was younger, and I did enjoy it. Watching it again after reading the book took away the enjoyment because like you said, Roald Dahl is an amazing writer, but the movie didn’t honor that in my opinion.

  2. I loved Matilda the book, but just couldn’t stomach the movie. I felt it lost so much of the point and kind of caricaturized the characters. And now I want to go back and reread the book and see how it stands up against my memories of it 😀

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