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Film: Matilda

1996 film adaptation by Danny De Vito of the Roald Dahl book about an exceptionally clever little girl, Matilda Wormwood, who has exceptionally horrible and ignorant parents. Matilda has a love of learning and books, but her parents think she is stupid and deride her for reading while they watch mindless Soap Operas and Game Shows.

The first half of the film deals with Matilda discovering how to use her intellect against her parents by playing tricks, like supergluing her father's hat to his head. The second half of the film pits her against a far more formidable enemy — "The Trunchbull", her school's sadistic headmistress, as well as introducing the only person to truly recognize Matilda's amazing talent, Miss Honey. Matilda ultimately has to pit her prodigious intellect (and newly discovered telekinetic powers) against the Trunchbull to liberate both the sorely oppressed children and her beloved teacher, as well as making a better life for herself.

The film stars Mara Wilson (Miracle on 34th Street, Mrs. Doubtfire) in the lead and a frighteningly accurate Trunchbull in the form of Pam Ferris.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Matilda's parents verbally berate her and neglect her every need, they have no problem leaving her at home, and they left her in the car when they got home from the hospital after driving extremely recklessly with her unrestrained in the back seat. Later in the film, it's revealed that Miss Honey was raised by The Trunchbull, who was just as abusive to her as she is with the students.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Minor character Hortensia, the older girl at Matilda's school. In the book she's a bully who repeatedly insults Matilda and Lavender, while in the movie she's friendly and protective of them.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Matilda's brother became more of a Big Brother Bully in this movie, while in the book he wasn't as important, but there were hints that he treated her better than the parents.
  • Adults Are Useless: None of the teachers at Crunchem Hall challenge The Trunchbull because they are absolutely terrified of her. It is eventually discovered that Miss Honey's fears of her are particularly justified. The parents, however, don't have much of an excuse. Not a single student manages to convince their parents that The Chokey exists. It's sort of justified by Matilda's theory that the various punishments from The Trunchbull are so over-the-top that the parents simply don't believe it.
    • Confirmed in the book, where Trunchbull flat-out explains that she intentionally designs her punishments to "go the whole hog" instead of doing things by "halves," that way, parents would assume that children were making it up.
  • Age Cut: Twice.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: The Wormwood couple are already embarrassments themselves, but Matilda gladly leads to more public humiliation for them.
  • ...And That Little Girl Was Me: Miss Honey telling Matilda about her own childhood.
  • A God Am I: The Trunchbull manages to give a spiel to this effect in a classroom, to children, in a very Sadist Teacher kind of way.
    Trunchbull: Am I wrong? I'm never wrong. In this classroom, in this school, I!! AM!! GOD!!
  • Ascended Extra: A couple of characters from the book, such as Bruce Bogtrotter, who only appeared a single chapter were upgraded into regular friends of Matilda's in the movie.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Miss Honey.
  • Because I Said So: Matilda is made to do as she's told because "I'm big and you're small, I'm right and you're wrong, I'm smart and you're dumb, and there's nothing you can do about it."
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Played straight. Matilda is a sweet girl with the purest intentions... who uses her powers to evade, inconvenience and, in the end, instill abject terror in her enemy.
  • Big Bad: The Trunchbull.
  • Big Brother Bully: Michael. In the book, he's a dumb bystander. Here, he throws objects and insults at Matilda when they're alone.
  • Big Eater: Bruce does manage to eat the entire cake - and the thing was huge. Leaves your wondering what kind of stomach capacity he has.
  • Big Fancy House: The Trunchbull's house. It's actually Miss Honey's house, though.
  • Black Best Friend: Lavender, due to Race Lift.
  • Bowdlerise: Mostly averted. Except for Trunchbull's use of the word "pissworm" being muted and the scene of Matilda's mom talking to her friend on the phone about someone getting a boob job getting cut, ABC Family shows the film practically uncut.
  • Brain Critical Mass: Profoundly gifted kids the world over wish that being bored out of your mind and forced to tolerate the idiocy and cruelty of everyone around you gave you Psychic Powers. In the book, Matilda's telekenetic powers go away when she finally gets put in the upper grades; in the movie, the narrator explains that because of Matilda's new, happier life, she no longer uses her psychic powers — unless it's for trivial things, like getting books off the shelf.
  • Bully Hunter: Of the anti-Sadist Teacher variety.
  • Butt Monkey: Harry Wormwood, once Matilda works out how to get even with him without being found out.
  • The Brute: The Trunchbull.
  • California Doubling: A literal example. The movie was shot in parts of Arcadia, California.
  • Call Back: Bruce Bogtrotter (the boy who had to eat an entire chocolate cake as punishment for stealing a slice of cake) can be seen shoving a piece of chocolate cake into the Big Bad's mouth as she is run out of the school.
  • Cassandra Truth: The Trunchbull deliberately uses such outlandishly cruel punishments because any parent would assume a child was making them up.
  • Ceiling Cling: Matilda, to the underside of a table.
  • Child Hater: The Trunchbull. Exemplified by her motto, "Use the rod, beat the child."
  • Child Prodigy: Matilda.
  • Covers Always Lie: At least one cover has The Trunchbull smiling serenely, rather than her usual Slasher Smile.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Matilda has had adoption papers on hand since she was big enough to xerox.
  • Creator Cameo: Sort of. The portrait of Magnus, Miss Honey's father, is an actual portrait of Roald Dahl.
  • Cultural Translation: In the movie, the cast is American instead of English and it is set somewhere in America instead of somewhere in the Home Counties. Only Pam Ferris is British. Crunchem Hall retains an oddly British feel by being a fairly old, dour-looking building rather than the newer building more typical of American schools in media, as well as maintaining much of the same structure as a traditional British school.
  • Cute Bookworm: Matilda loves reading more than anything else.
  • Dartboard of Hate: Miss Trunchbull is seen to have a dartboard on her office door covered in photos of random students. She's able to throw about a dozen darts at the thing at once and accurately hit all of the pictures.
  • Dean Bitterman: The Trunchbull.
  • Defiant Stone Throw: At the end, targeting Ms. Trunchbull.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The climax. Matilda uses her powers to write a message on the chalkboard, commanding The Trunchbull to give Miss Honey back her house and leave town. While the Trunchbull cowers in fear over what she believes to be a message from Miss Honey's dead father, she becomes disoriented and all the kids collectively pelt her with the contents of their lunchboxes until she flees the school, never to return.
  • Evil Brit: In the movie, all the characters (who were British in the book) become Americans except Pam Ferris as Miss Trunchbull.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Harry just doesn't get why Miss Honey would want to raise Matilda even when he's told she's a smart and wonderful girl. He still likely disagrees and was more than happy to get her off his already-full hands.
  • Evil Counterpart: Miss Trunchbull is this to Miss Honey.
  • Evil Teacher: Guess who?
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Matilda's parents don't understand Matilda's love of books and learning, rejecting her for it. They prefer the more mundane Michael who is being coached to take over his father's company.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Miss Trunchbull.
  • The Film of the Book: Like many Dahl books, this got a film adaptation.
  • Force Feeding: Involves a overweight kid who is forced to eat chocolate cake, as punishment for supposedly stealing Miss Trunchbull's cake, while the whole school watches. In other words, he is not allowed to stop eating until he has finished the whole cake, and it's HUGE too (18 inches in diameter). Even if he gets sick, he has to keep eating.
  • Forced to Watch: Mr. Wormwood tries to force Matilda to watch mindless TV. It ends up exploding.
  • For the Evulz: Miss Trunchbull's main reason to do anything.
  • Genius Book Club: Matilda has already made significant inroads into the Western Canon by the time she starts school.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Miss Trunchbull is buying a car from Mr. Wormwood's lot.
    Trunchbull: I am looking for a car that is cheap & reliable. Can you service me?
    Mr. Wormwood: In a matter of speaking, yes...
    • When Ms. Wormwood has won a big bingo jackpot.
    Ms. Wormwood: I hit the DOUBLE BINGO!
    Mr. Wormwood: Double Bingo, huh? *oooooooh*....
    • When Matilda's father is peeved at what his daughter is reading.
    Harry: What is this trash you're reading?
    Matilda: It's not trash, daddy. It's lovely. It's called Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville.
    Harry: (reacts in shock) Moby WHAT?
    • When Miss Trunchbull wrongly accuses Matilda for putting a newt into her cup of water.
    Trunchbull: You didn't like the Chokey, did you? Thought you'd pay me back, didn't you? Well, I'll pay you back, young lady.
    Matilda: For what, Miss Trunchbull?
    Trunchbull: For this NEWT, you PISSWORM!!
    • Ms. Wormwood is chatting on the phone with an unseen friend of hers. It's implied to be a line about a boob job.
    Ms. Wormwood: ...If you get yours waxed, it'll change your life, too!
    • Right after the Wham Line, the kids gasp. Miss Trunchbull gives us this gem:
    Trunchbull: Shut your holes!
    • Heres another from Trunchbull:
  • Hair Decorations: Matilda always wears a hair ribbon, tied into a bow at the top of her head. This comes back to bite her later.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Miss Trunchbull.
  • Happily Adopted: Matilda is adopted by Miss Honey after her parents flee to Guam.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Mr. Wormwood's secondhand car business. Matilda's dad is the stereotypical sleazy car salesman, even putting sawdust in the oil so that the engine will burn out and they have to come back and buy a new car. Also, rolling back the odometer.
  • Hot Teacher: Miss Honey.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Matilda undergoes this. The movie uses a Montage.
  • Humiliation Conga: The movie significantly pads the scene of Miss Trunchbull's downfall. After her first being spooked by Matilda pretending to be the ghost of Magnus (with all the children in unison reading the chalkboard message), she is beaten up by chalk-covered erasers, knocked onto a globe by the same student she tried to throw out the window, and in the end is chased out of the school and into the parking lot by the entire school, driving away as they pelt her and her car with food from their lunchboxes.
  • Impairment Shot: During Miss Trunchbull's Humiliation Conga, there's a shot of her seeing double from dizziness after being spun on the globe.
  • Implied Answer: When Bruce refuses to fess up about eating the Trunchbull's cake, she declares it was "the most scrumptious cake in the world". Bruce says his mom's is better.
  • I Warned You: Matilda warned her dad about his activities, but he refuses to listen because to him she's too "dumb" to understand. He ends up being on the run to Guam. Another reason why he happily left Matilda to someone else so he wouldn't have to deal with her "I told you so's".
  • Jerkass:
    • Agatha Trunchbull.
    • Also, Harry Wormwood, whose used-car company sells cars made from stolen parts - at outrageous prices - that only survive for a few miles. Because their engines are filled with sawdust, and the odometers is rolled back. And then there's how he acts around Matilda.
  • Lady and a Scholar: Matilda is a genuinely sweet-natured kid, and never thinks of herself as superior for her brains. If she's asked anything intellectual, she will respond in a polite fashion. She really only dislikes people who are annoying or rude to her.
  • Large Ham: The Trunchbull. Watching Pam Ferris gleefully chew the scenery is one of the most fun things about the film.
  • Laughably Evil: Miss Trunchbull.
  • Maximum Fun Chamber: The Chokey, which turns out to be a non-lethal (as far as we know) iron maiden.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: As later confirmed by Mara Wilson in the commentary for The Nostalgia Chick review of this movie, Pam Ferris is very nice and the type to compare pictures of pets.
  • Mind over Matter: Matilda's telekinetic powers.
  • Mind Screw: Danny De Vito plays both Matilda's (villainous) father and the narrator, which creates a strange, postmodern tone.
  • Narrating the Obvious: The narrator often explained what was happening on screen, even things that are blatantly obvious. The biggest offender is when Matilda goes to school for the first time and the camera shows us the school; he explains that the school was a building with children.
  • Oh Crap / This Is Gonna Suck: Ms. Trunchbull after being chased out of Miss Honey's classroom thanks to Matilda, only to find the entire school staring down at her with food drawn and ready. It's the silence before they start chucking that really sells Trunchbull's expression.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Miss Honey, played by a South African, is a repeat offender.
    • Very occasionally, Rhea Perlman forgot about her character's squawky, Fran Drescher-y New York-type accent.
  • Plucky Girl: Matilda.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie expands the book with fillers in most sequences (including Matilda going on a commando raid of the Trunchbull's house), significantly alters the nature and extent of Matilda's powers, gives her an age upgrade, foreshadows the authorities' interest in her parents' crimes, and turns her nice but dumb brother into a sadistic brat. None of this particularly alters the story itself though.
  • Punishment Box: the sadistic headmistress is fond of (among other things) using the "Chokey," a closet lined with spikes, thus like an iron maiden in which there is just barely enough room to stand.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "Send Me On My Way" by Rusted Root. Watch the first few minutes of that film until the song comes up and just try not to smile, fondly remember your childhood, and then dance around crazily.
  • Race Lift: Lavender. In the book she is white; in the movie she is black.
  • Refuge in Audacity: This is how the Trunchbull gets away with such shocking cruelty to the students. Any parent who heard their kid tell them the principal threw them in a closed chamber with broken glass and nails jutting out of the walls for several hours would naturally assume their kid was lying.
  • Run for the Border: The Wormwoods flee to Guam after Harry's fraudulent activity is discovered. What no-one points out is that Guam is a US territory, so they aren't escaping anything.
  • Sadist Teacher: The Trunchbull, arguably the queen of this trope.
  • Shout-Out: to other Roald Dahl works; Matilda accidentally refers to Charles Dickens as "Dahl's Chickens" at first, and later she shares with Miss Honey that "the heart of a mouse beats at the rate of 550 times a minute".
    • Trunchbull: "Your mummy... is a twit!!"
    • It's very hard not to see the shot of Trunchbull snorting against the window as a direct reference to the raptor doing the same thing in the then-recent Jurassic Park movie.
    • In the end of the movie, the Wormwoods, after giving up Matilda to be adopted by Ms. Honey, make their getaway to Guam. In The Ratings Game, another movie produced by Danny De Vito & staring him & his wife Rhea Pearlman, the wayward ship (with the Nielsen Ratings families on board) is traveling to Guam.
      • It also shows the Wormwoods' stupidity since Guam is a U.S. Territory. Needless to say, even if they made it to Guam, the law still catches up to them, since the FBI has jurisdiction there.
  • Sleep Mask: Mrs Wormwood wears a garish one with bright eyes embroidered onto it.
  • Smug Snake: The Trunchbull.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: It's not in evidence, anyway, despite all the child abuse going on.
  • Spies in a Van: Matilda notices a car is always parked on the street outside their house. The car turns out to belong to cops who are trying to find proof of Matilda's father using stolen car parts.
  • Sticky Situation: Harry Wormwood gets his hat superglued on him. He is understandably pissed.
  • Straw Feminist: A dash of this after the Trunchbull hears the "Mrs. D, Mrs. I" mnemonic device for spelling "difficulty," whereupon she demands "Why are all of these women married?!?!"
  • Surrounded by Idiots: How Matilda probably felt, especially towards her family.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: In the movie, Mr. Wormwood is shorter than Mrs. Wormwood, but he's now the pudgy one, and she the wiry one. Partly because they're played by the director, Danny De Vito, and his actual wife, Rhea Perlman.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: Matilda's telekinesis first displays itself when her father rips up her library books and tries to force her to watch TV with the rest of the family. It blows out the TV set.
  • The Unfavorite: Matilda's parents inexplicably hate her and refuse to believe she is any more intelligent than a lima bean (though Matilda's mother admits that she was mean to her because she never really understood her daughter), favoring her rather dim-witted brother Michael instead.
    • The book clears up Matilda's father's reasons for his behavior: he's jealous. Matilda is capable of enjoying books and learning, which give her father no pleasure when he's busy defrauding people with his used car business.
  • Vanilla Edition: The original DVD presented the movie in Pan and Scan with no bonus features. The so-called "Special Edition" added some extras, but still no widescreen option. Fans who didn't get to buy the laserdisc had to wait until the movie's Blu-Ray release to own it in its original aspect ratio. But the Blu-Ray retains all of the Special Edition bonus features except for some set-top games.
  • Villainous Breakdown: While she doesn't seem to break down as much, the Trunchbull is obviously distraught that the children were able to get back at her which she didn't even forsee.
    • She also gets pretty damn jittery when Matilda gaslights her at her home. At least... until she realises what's happening.
  • Wham Line: Two right in a row, the second being an in-universe example.note 
    The Trunchbull I broke your arm once, I can do it again Jenny.
    Miss Honey: I am not seven years old anymore, Aunt Trunchbull!
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Matilda, big time. She's able to multiply large numbers in her head (eg. "13 times 379") in seconds. She says she likes to read just about anything. The only reason she wasn't in advanced placement already was because her parents don't believe in the value of education.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Trunchbull has no problem with this whatsoever.

Mary ReillyFilms of the 1990sMaximum Risk
Lady and the TrampCreator/ABC FamilyRemember the Titans

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