The Reel Review

B+

A brilliant young girl born to loathesome, dimwitted parents tries to find social justice for herself, her fellow schoolmates and her beloved teacher when she is sent to a boarding school run by a tyrannical, child-hating headmaster, in this Netflix film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic Tony-winning musical.

Emma Thompson and Alisha Weir in Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical

Directed by Matthew Warchus, who also helmed the original Broadway production, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is VERY theatrical – showcasing big stagey production numbers with lots of singing and dancing, which, depending on your personal tastes, will either thoroughly delight or thoroughly annoy you. The meticulous attention to detail in this film adaptation is impressive, as is winsome newcomer Alisha Weir, as the sweetly rebellious Matilda, who also wields telekinetic powers. A prosthetic-and-fascist clothing-covered Emma Thompson does her hammy best as the villainous school headmistress Agatha Trunchbull, with Lashana Lynch (The Woman King, No Time to Die) a standout as the sweet-natured teacher, Miss Honey. Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are ghoulish fun as Matilda’s wretched parents. 

Lashana Lynch and Weir in Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.

The first half of this colorful kaleidoscope of a film is a bit slow, but about halfway in, it starts to gel, once the very energetic cast gets into the big production numbers, whose meticulous detail sometimes makes them feel a bit mechanical. One of the adaptations more strained storylines is Matilda’s cooked up fictional romantic tall tale that feels a bit flat, but even so, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical will delight theater fans and might even win over a few new ones as well.

REEL FACTS

• In the stage version of the musical, Trunchbull traditionally is played by a man. Ralph Fiennes had been considered for the role in this film before it went to Emma Thompson.

Mara Wilson (left) and Pam Ferris (right) in 1996’s Matilda

• Mara Wilson and Pam Ferris, who played the title character and Agatha Trunchbull respectively in 1996’s Matilda, both turned down cameo appearances in this film.

Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal (Hud) with husband Roald Dahl in 1962. They divorced in 1983 after 30 years of marriage.

• Welsh-born Roald Dahl was a WWII fighter pilot and intelligence officer before becoming the famous author of children’s classics such as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Witches and The BFG. Dahl died of a rare blood cancer in 1990 at the age of 74.

 

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