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Film / Matilda

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"They're all mistakes, children! Filthy, nasty things. Glad I never was one."
Agatha Trunchbull

Matilda is a 1996 film adaptation by Danny DeVito 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) as Matilda, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman as her obnoxious parents, Embeth Davidtz as Miss Honey, and a frighteningly accurate Trunchbull in the form of Pam Ferris.

Matilda provides examples of:

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  • Abusive Parents: It's revealed that Miss Honey was raised by The Trunchbull, who was just as abusive to her as she is with the students. The Wormwoods aren't nearly as bad, but still decidedly mentally and emotionally abusive.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • The music that plays when the FBI agents search Harry's garage is from the film Pee-wee's Big Adventure. One of the agents is played by Paul Reubens.
    • One of the lunchboxes reads "Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey". Aside from it being a Bruce Springsteen reference, Asbury Park is also the hometown of Danny DeVito.
    • In the Latin Spanish dub, Harry Wormwood (voiced by Humberto Vélez) hums the theme to The Simpsons. Velez is best known as the classic voice of Homer.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • Even Miss Honey cracks up with her students when they notice that Miss Trunchbull is drinking a glass of water with a live newt in it.
    • Lavender thanks Matilda for not tattling on her to the Trunchbull about the newt. Matilda tells her that "best friends don't tell" and imitates Miss Trunchbull's Squirrels in My Pants dance after the newt flew out of the glass and onto her suit. Lavender starts giggling at the imitation.
    • When Matilda starts her climactic rampage against the Trunchbull, the kids are in hysterics as the tyrant is pelted with erasers, tackled by a flying kid, and spun on a globe. As icing on the cake, Miss Honey suggests the last trick to Matilda subtly!
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
    • Book-Hortensia went into detail about the pranks she played on the Trunchbull, and each one landed her in the Chokey for hours on end. Movie-Hortensia casually mentions she was locked in twice but doesn't explain why, to establish that the Trunchbull may put you in for any reason.
    • Book-Miss Honey told Matilda that she had to live in a farmer's shed because when she earned her teaching job, Miss Trunchbull made her sign a document to surrender her wages for ten years, giving her one pound a week as "Allowance". In the movie, Miss Honey doesn't go into this and says she found a cottage that rents for fifty dollars a month.
    • In the book it is mentioned that Trunchbull's ultra-sadistic methods go undisturbed because she has managed to intimidate the parents into looking the other way as well. With this detail missing, the Artistic License – Education question of why parents aren't concerned is just felt all the harder.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The ending of the original book has Matilda's powers fading away. Miss Honey thinks this may be because Matilda, having been put in a class for older students, is finally using all her brainpower on her studies, leaving none for her powers to work. In the film, Matilda no longer needs to use her powers in the way that she did before, but still has them and uses them on occasion just because she can (such as to summon a book from the bookshelf).
  • Adaptational Badass: A minor example, but in the book Amanda Thripp was clearly terrified of Miss Trunchbull, and stammered through her attempt to defend her pigtails. By contrast, her film counterpart isn't fazed at all by Trunchbull.
  • Adaptational Explanation: In the book, it's never really explained why Miss Trunchbull accepts the premise that she's being haunted, other than the fact that she has no other way to explain what's happening, or why she thinks said ghost would have the power to harm her. The film establishes that she's extremely superstitious, which makes it much more plausible that she would actually believe that Magnus' ghost could come back to haunt her. Additionally, the film has Matilda actually affect Trunchbull physically with her powers in addition to the message, which would help to erase any doubt in her mind that the "ghost" is still corporeal enough to be capable of harming her.
  • 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 (yet warns them about the things the Trunchbull did to her to spare them from suffering like most students), while in the movie she's friendly and protective of them.
    • Matilda's mom. Despite being portrayed as vapid and frivolous (even more than in the book), she's actually the most decent out of Matilda's three family members, while in the book it was Michael (who gets the Adaptational Jerkass instead). At the end she shows regret that she never understood her daughter, which never happens in the book. When the family is fleeing the country, she's the only one to wave good-bye to Matilda, while in the book it was Michael the one who did wave good-bye to Matilda and both parents didn't even look back.
    • Also Harry Wormwood, since he has some Pet the Dog moments. He makes a deal with Miss Trunchbull to send Matilda to school in exchange for a new car, and drives his daughter to school on her first day. At the end he and his wife sign Matilda's adoption papers.
    • Oddly enough, even Miss Trunchbull gets this. While she is abusive towards Miss Honey, in the past and present she doesn't garnish her wages as a means of keeping her at home as a slave. Miss Honey seemed to have suffered physical abuse instead.
  • Adaptational Karma: The Wormwoods in the book leave for Spain, which is a separate country and would make the extradition process harder for the British authorities to catch the parents. In the film, they flee to Guam, a US territory where the FBI has jurisdiction. The narrator says they got away, but it's only a matter of time...
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Matilda's brother became more of a Big Brother Bully in the movie, while in the book he wasn't as important, but there were hints that he treated her better than the parents.
  • Adaptational Location Change: The film changes the setting from Dahl's Britain to an unidentified town in America (likely located in New Jersey given that Danny DeVito and Jersey Films made the movie).
  • Adaptational Nationality: The 1996 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel changed the setting from Great Britain to the USA, thus Americanizing all the characters, except for the evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull, who remains a Mean Brit.
  • Adaptational Skill: Of a sort. Matilda has telekenetic powers in both the book and the film, but her powers in the film are much more advanced; in the book, she's only able to move small objects, and it takes her a significant amount of practice just to be able to work the chalk well enough to write, while in the film, she quickly gains total mastery over her powers and can use them to do pretty much anything she wants, including throwing a person the size of Trunchbull around like a rag doll.
  • Adaptational Timespan Change: In the book, Matilda's campaign of payback against her parents is spread out over several weeks, but in the film it's condensed into a single day.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • The school's cook. She's an old, frail woman in both the book and film, but in the book she disapproves of the Trunchbull's abuse but can't do anything about it because of her age. In the film, she appears to be in cahoots with the Trunchbull, supporting her punishments.
    • Technically it's a case of Adaptational Even More Villainy, but in the book Miss Trunchbull just stormed off in a huff after smashing the plate over Bruce Bogtrotter's head. In the movie she hands out an after-school detention to every student in the school, and threatens to throw anyone who protests in the Chokey — at the same time, if need be.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Nigel, the only boy in Matilda's class cheeky enough to stand up to the Trunchbull. And avoided getting punched for it! Also the deputy headmaster, Mr. Trilby, who in the book replaces Trunchbull after she quits; here it's Miss Honey who replaces Trunchbull.
    • There's also the first bit of the book where the narrator discusses parenting before he introduces us to the Wormwoods, which doesn't get included in the film either. Granted, as this had no real effect on the plot, this was the right call.
  • Adults Are Useless: None of the teachers at Crunchem Hall challenge The Trunchbull because they are absolutely terrified of her, though Miss Honey says that she stays because someone has to protect the children as best as they can. It is eventually discovered that Miss Honey's fears of her are particularly justified because the Trunchbull is her aunt. The book explains that the Trunchbull intentionally makes sure her punishments are so over the top that any parents would assume the children are making things up.
  • Age Cut: Several times; we first see Matilda as a newborn, then as a two-year-old, four-year old, and finally at "six and a half".
  • Age Lift:
    • Matilda's age throughout most of the story is lifted from five and a half to six and a half.
    • Amanda Thripp is about ten in the book, but here she's Matilda's age and in the same class.
  • The Alleged Car: Harry Wormwood takes pride in passing stolen, barely-functional cars off as quality used vehicles and selling them to unsuspecting customers. Most notably, he sells one to the Trunchbull that only lasts her a few weeks.
  • Alone with the Psycho:
    • Miss Honey and Matilda with Miss Trunchbull when the latter nearly catches them in her house. To drive the point home, Miss Trunchbull breaks a chandelier and rips chains off to get to them.
    • The roles get reversed when Matilda visits Miss Trunchbull's house and terrorizes her by messing with the clocks and the lights, scattering papers, and tossing her painting into the fire, all the while stealing back Liccy doll and two chocolates.
  • 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!!
  • Artistic License – Education: Trunchbull's overtly sadistic reign of terror over the faculty gets the Hand Wave that it's Refuge in Audacity incarnate (and thus the children trying to confess are given the Cassandra Truth treatment) in the original text (and it's also mentioned that Trunchbull has managed to intimidate what few parents were concerned about it into looking the hell away if they know what's good for them), but in the film it's just a general veneer of Adults Are Useless (the only kid we see accusing Trunchbull to their parents is Matilda and they just don't give a crap about her at all), and it doesn't factor in the fact the film takes place in the modern-day United States and somebody should find it weird that their kid talks about their school having a freaking Iron Maiden.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The narrator says that the Wormwoods evaded the FBI, but doesn't mention that the FBI could have caught up to them in Guam (which is still a United States territory), and most likely did.
  • 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.
  • Badass Bystander: Amanda Thripp. When Miss Trunchbull confronts her for wearing pigtails, Amanda politely defends them by saying her mother thinks they're sweet. She also takes the time to scoop up flowers for Miss Honey after Miss Trunchbull tosses her over the fence for saying "but" and gives a victory wave to the watching students. Later on, when Miss Trunchbull asks if she can spell, Amanda politely says that Miss Honey taught the class how to spell "difficulty".
  • Bait-and-Switch: The Trunchbull pushes through the crowd, sees Matilda, gleefully exclaims "Fresh meat!"...then swats her aside to go after Amanda Thripp instead.
  • 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.
    • Miss Honey Grew a Spine in the climax when she stands up to "Aunt Trunchbull" and says she's not afraid of her aunt anymore. Then she subtly conveys to Matilda to spin the class globe when a semiconscious Trunchbull has landed on top of it.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Ms. Trunchbull (the primary antagonist) and Harry Wormwood (the secondary antagonist).
  • 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 you wondering what kind of stomach capacity he has.
    • Matilda's brother, Michael, too.
  • Big Fancy House: The Trunchbull's house. It's actually Miss Honey's house, though.
  • Bilingual Bonus: During the Trunchbull's phone conversation with Harry Wormwood after her car breaks down, she tells him: "Yes I know what caveat emptor means, you lowlife liar!"note 
  • 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 telekinetic 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.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Miss Trunchbull's Establishing Character Moment has her yelling at Amanda for wearing her hair in pigtails. During her humiliation towards the end, 'No Pigtails' can be seen on a list of school rules.
    • Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to eat an entire chocolate cake by the Trunchbull. During the Trunchbull's humiliation, he smears a slice of chocolate cake across her face.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Evil Brit Trunchbull likes to slip into a girlish American accent when mocking children and parents alike. Almost makes you wonder why she emigrated...
    Amanda Thripp: My mommy likes pigtails! She thinks they're sweet!
    Trunchbull: Your mommy... is a TWIT!
  • Bullying a Dragon: Any person that messes with Matilda, before and after she gets her powers. Case in point:
    • Her father lecturing her for being a "smart aleck" leads to her stealthily dyeing his hair platinum blond. His Because I Said So leads to her sneaking superglue into his hat, and his tearing up her library book leads to her destroying the tv set.
    • Miss Trunchbull trying to punish Matilda for the newt leads to Matilda tipping the glass over with her eyes and forcing the newt onto Trunchbull's suit. Hilarity Ensues.
    • The FBI agents attempt to bully her into testifying against her father when she catches them snooping in the garage without a search warrant. She not only causes their car to run loose but also steals the tape that was critical evidence against her father.
    • Michael tosses a carrot at her out of spite, a day after she has practiced her powers. She freezes it in mid-air and sends it back into his open mouth.
  • Bully Hunter: Of the anti-Sadist Teacher variety. Matilda is the only student who actually threatens the Trunchbull's authority because she hasn't spent years taking nonsense from the principal. While Amanda will stand up politely to Miss Trunchbull and Hortensia is matter-of-fact about the daily punishments that can ensue for the smallest infractions, all of the kids are terrified of her. Matilda finds means to rally the kids and stand up to Miss Trunchbull.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Instead of outright denying the Trunchbull's accusation that he stole her cake, Bruce comments that "it's hard to remember a specific kind of cake." Then subverted when Trunchbull describes hers as the best in the world, and Bruce comments that his mom's is better.
  • Butt-Monkey: Harry Wormwood, once Matilda works out how to get even with him without being found out.
  • The Brute: The Trunchbull.
  • 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.
    • "I'm big, you're little. I'm right, you're wrong." Harry Wormwood says this to Matilda and she takes revenge by gluing his hat to his head. When Trunchbull says this to the class it leads to her humiliation and downfall as well.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • The Trunchbull deliberately uses such outlandishly cruel punishments because any parent would assume a child was making them up. Matilda does mention a few of these punishments to her parents, but they're either not paying attention or don't believe her.
    • Matilda also tells her parents that cops are watching the house. Although Mr. Wormwood rightly doubts their claim of being speedboat salesmen (pointing out that "there are no lakes around here"), he thinks they're trying to sleep with his wife, and Mrs. Wormwood is completely fooled.
  • Child Hater: The Trunchbull. Exemplified by her motto, "Use the rod, beat the child."
  • Child Prodigy: Matilda.
  • Children Do the Housework: Matilda is shown teaching herself how to cook by the age of 5, since her parents forget about her and leave her alone for most of the day.
  • Companion Cube: Matilda has a little doll that appears to have been made out of spare things around the house. According to her actress, the doll's name is Wanda.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: The kids at the school are so used to Trunchbull's punishments that when the latter intimidates Amanda Thripp for wearing pigtails, Hortensia calmly predicts that Trunchbull will use the "hammerthrow" move and talks with another student if a tossed Amanda will make it over the fence. Amanda for her part scoops up flowers after she lands safely over the fence and gives a victory wave. Matilda is the only one with an Oh, Crap! Logical Latecomer concern for Amanda's safety.
  • Cool Teacher: Everyone loves the soft-spoken Miss Honey, who makes every child feel special and teaches them sums and spelling rather quickly. Matilda comes to adore her because Miss Honey gets her schoolwork appropriate for her genius IQ, lends her books, and rescues her from the Chokey.
  • Container Cling: Matilda, to the underside of a table.
  • 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.
  • Creator In-Joke: Miss Honey named her doll 'Liccy Doll'. Roald Dahl's daughter, who was a producer on the film, is called Liccy.
  • Cross-Cast Role: The young Matilda was played by twin boys, due to the original twin girls falling ill with flu.
  • 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. Implied that Miss Honey was one as a child too.
  • Cute Witch: Matilda technically counts as one, since she has supernatural powers and is definitely Badass Adorable.

  • 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, who says that her idea of a perfect school is one where there are no children...
  • Death Glare: Agent Bill tosses one to Matilda when posing as a speedboat salesman in front of her mother and she says he and his partner are cops.
  • Defiant Stone Throw: At the end, targeting Miss Trunchbull.
  • Destroy the Evidence: Matilda obtains the videocassette with evidence against her father and tosses it, after using her powers to lure the FBI away from the house. As the narrator puts it, however, she's only "buying time" since the cops have been watching the house for months.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The federal agents try to snoop around the Wormwood garage without a search warrant. Matilda busts them and tells them they could go to federal prison if lacking one.
  • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Harry catches his wife entertaining the "speed boat salesman" and yells at them to Get Out!. Mrs. Wormwood claims she's house-bound and needs to talk to someone, but it's obvious that she was Mistaken for Cheating.
  • Doesn't Know Their Own Child: Matilda's parents are so uncaring of her that they don't even know what her age is. Her father also gets her name wrong, calling her "Melinda".
  • Door Slam of Rage: In an effort to test her psychic powers, Matilda demands her father to make her angry. When he starts shouting and walking toward her, she manages to telepathically slam the door in his face.
  • Double Entendre: After ordering the cook to bring in chocolate cake for Brucey, The Trunchbull says her blood and sweat went into it as she wipes her arm on her nose and some students make disgusted faces, thinking she meant it in a literal sense.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Matilda's practically a poster child for this trope, having to look after herself since birth due to her cruel, neglectful parents as well as her highly sadistic principal. When the opportunity comes to put them in their place and to leave behind her awful home life, she immediately takes it.
    • Miss Honey is definitely this, and is a remarkably collected and kindhearted woman for all she has endured since losing her father as a young child. It is not until her fateful meeting with Matilda that she finds the strength to take back what was stolen from her.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Mr. Wormwood correctly spots the thread and realizes that the "speedboat salesmen" are lying about their intentions, since there are no lakes in the area. He does not figure out that they're FBI agents investigating his Honest John's Dealership (even when Matilda tries to tell him so), instead deciding they must be trying to sleep with his wife.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: In-universe, the story that Miss Honey tells about the girl that grew up in Miss Trunchbull's house; Miss Honey says the ending is happy, but when we learn the little girl was her, Fridge Horror hits Matilda and the viewer since Miss Honey is still under Miss Trunchbull's thumb at school.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Harry is first shown looking at the newborn Matilda with disgust, establishing how uncaring he and his wife will be towards her. They then leave her to slide around unsecured in the back of the car on the drive home from the hospital, and forget to take her out when they get there.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • It's brief, but Mr. Wormwood is briefly dismayed when Miss Trunchbull talks about, "Use the rod, beat the child." While he's abusive towards his own daughter, he doesn't like hearing that but just says, "Terrific motto."
    • Miss Trunchbull may be utterly sadistic, but even for her the fraud and deception Harry practices in his business are disgusting and immoral. The fact that he committed one such fraud against her is likely a factor.
  • 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 Is Hammy: Guess.
  • Evil Teacher: Trunchbull, who treates the students of her school very harshly.
  • Exact Words:
    • Matilda promises Miss Honey she won't enter Miss Trunchbull's house again. She scares Miss Trunchbull and gets Miss Honey's doll back by using her powers from the garage roof.
    • Happens between Matilda and her father. Harry attempts to punish Matilda for what he sees as smarting off to him (in reality, he was mad that she figured out the answer to a math problem that Michael, the favored child, had no clue about). Dad tells Matilda that "When a person is bad, that person needs to be taught a lesson." The narrator explains that he meant to say "when a child is bad." But because he said "person," Dad instilled the idea that children can punish their parents when the parents deserve it. Matilda does so, and it works.
  • Fainting: The emotional kind, happens to Miss Trunchbull faints after receiving what she thought was a threatening message from a dead man, laughed at by children, and being pelted by telekinetically propelled chalkboard erasers.
  • 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. At least, she can put up a front among other adults. Harry Wormwood is the same way.
  • The Film of the Book: Like many Dahl books, this got a film adaptation.
  • Force Feeding: Involves an 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. It's made even worse by the fact that the cook is unclean and always lets her blood and sweat get inside food.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey's conversation hints at their relationship before it is revealed that the former is the latter's aunt.
  • Free-Range Children: Matilda has been walking herself to the library ever since she was four, and when she goes to terrorize the Trunchbull her parents don't even notice that she's leaving during the evening. This is intentional, to show how neglectful they are.
  • Gaslighting: Matilda does this to the Trunchbull with her powers, giving her the impression she's being haunted by Magnus. Also shows the potential pitfalls to doing this — when the Trunchbull finds Matilda's hair ribbon on her property, she immediately deduces that the entire event was her doing, and not a genuine haunting. But she doesn't realize that it was done with Psychic Powers, allowing Matilda to pull it off again right in front of her at the climax of the film.
  • Genius Book Club: Matilda has already made significant inroads into the Western Canon by the time she starts school.
  • Gentleman 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.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Miss Trunchbull, as one boy Julius found out after eating two M&Ms in class.
  • Happily Adopted: Matilda is adopted by Miss Honey after her parents flee to Guam.
  • Happily Married: Oddly enough, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood. Although she and he have occasional spats and she is a Gold Digger Trophy Wife, they manage to make up within a matter of hours or days. It's one of their few redeeming qualities.
  • Heel Realization: At the end of the film, Matilda asks Miss Honey to legally adopt her. Zinnia, in a moment of surprising clarity, remarks that "You're the only daughter I ever had, Matilda—and I never understood you. Not one little bit." She then agrees to sign the papers and even gives Miss Honey and Matilda a friendly "Ciao" and wave goodbye as the rest of the Wormwoods flee. It's implied that Zinnia has finally realized that she was a terrible parent to Matilda because she just didn't get her, and decides to give her to someone who does.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Mr. Wormwood's secondhand car business which provides the page image. 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.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Matilda undergoes this. The movie uses a Montage.
  • Humiliation Conga: 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.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Matilda and her parents don't get along, and she did warn them about the cops watching the house, but she doesn't want her father to get arrested. So, she stops the agents from finding stolen car parts in the garage and destroys a videocassette loaded with evidence.
  • I Am Not My Father: When Trunchbull accuses Matilda of playing a part in Harry's having sold Trunchbull a lemon car, Matilda is greatly offended and says she's nothing like Harry.
  • 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 Never Said It Was Poison: When the Wormwoods begin sniggering about educated people, Miss Honey replies that an educated person would treat them if they were in hospital or, off the top of her head, defend them in court if they were sued for selling a faulty car. Mr. Wormwood responds with "What car? Sued by who? Who you been talking to?"
  • Inspector Javert: The FBI investigators that are watching the house and investigating Harry Wormwood. Seen most obviously when Matilda catches them snooping in the garage without a warrant and they try to intimidate her into testifying against her father.
  • Internal Reveal: Towards the climax of the film, Miss Honey lets slip an "Aunt" while standing up to the Trunchbull's bullying, resulting in a collective Gasp! from her students, who were not aware.
  • 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:
    • This is perhaps the nicest way to describe 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.
  • Kick the Dog: Because the Trunchbull is very superstitious, her reaction to seeing a black cat is to literally kick him out of her yard. Good thing he had nine lives.
  • Kids Punishing Parents: When Harry punishes Matilda for "being a smart-aleck", he says "when a person is bad, that person needs to be taught a lesson". As the voiceover points out, this implies that children should be able to punish misbehaving parents, too — an idea Matilda takes to heart, starting with gluing her father's hat to his head.
  • Large Ham:
    • The Trunchbull. Watching Pam Ferris gleefully chew the scenery is one of the most fun things about the film.
    • Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman do their share of hamming as Matilda's parents.
  • Laughably Evil: Whenever Miss Trunchbull isn't being nightmarish, she's usually pretty funny.
  • Little "No": Matilda gives one when she realizes that Miss Trunchbull is "Aunt Trunchbull" to Miss Honey. Miss Honey offers a little "yes" and sobs into a tissue.
  • Lonely Bachelor Pad: Miss Honey's house is furnished with only a couple of wooden crates (to show that she's extremely poor, rather than that she's lonely.)

  • Mama Bear:
    • Subverted with Mrs. Wormwood, who's never around emotionally. Though she does come to regret it in the end.
    • Miss Honey is a calmer type, being a Cowardly Lion. She claims she wasn't brave enough to stand up to Miss Trunchbull, but she protects Matilda at every turn, from springing her out of the Chokey to taking the fall for being at her house. In addition, she is a Determinator in making sure Matilda's genius is recognized and finding other opportunities for Matilda when neither Miss Trunchbull nor the parents agree.
  • Maximum Fun Chamber: The Chokey, which turns out to be a non-lethal (as far as we know) iron maiden.
  • Meaningful Name: A Zinnia is a type of flower which represents lasting affection, and when together, Harry and Zinnia Wormwood are as saccharine as they come.
  • Mind over Matter: Matilda's telekinetic powers.
  • Mind Screw: Danny DeVito plays both Matilda's (villainous) father and the narrator, which creates a strange, postmodern tone. Averted in some dubs where the voice actors for the father and the narrator are different people.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Miss Trunchbull sends Matilda to the Chokey after she realizes she bought a lemon from Harry.
  • A Mistake Is Born: In this version, Mr. Wormwood describes himself as being the father to 'one son, and one mistake'.
  • 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 the school; he explains that the school was a building with children.
  • Not So Above It All: During the Trunchbull's humiliation Miss Honey eventually cracks and bursts out laughing - and even signals to Matilda to twirl the globe around to torment the poor woman even further.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Why Miss Honey tells Matilda about the girl in Miss Trunchbull's house; they both come from households with Abusive Parents or aunts but one day "things will be different".
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore:
    • The children who pelt Miss Trunchbull with food until she leaves the school.
    • Also Miss Honey at the end:
      Miss Honey: I am not seven years old anymore, Aunt Trunchbull!
  • Not the Fall That Kills You…: Justified in both cases
    • When Miss Trunchbull tosses Amanda over the fence, she's still moving when she hits the ground. It's also a big field with lots of room to slow down. The friction allows Amanda to slow down with only dirty overalls, a bit of dizziness, and no injuries overall. Though as Pragmatic Villainy goes, Miss Trunchbull wouldn't want to kill a student so she timed her throw to make sure Amanda didn't break her neck or any bones.
    • Matilda, knowing physics, slows down the boy with her powers when the Trunchbull tosses him out the window and moves him around in the air to dispel the force. Soon the boy goes from screaming to laughing happily as he seems to be flying. When Matilda turns him around to hit the Trunchbull, she has him transfer the force into accidentally knocking over the lady, so he lands while just a little dizzy.
  • Oh, Crap!: Miss 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.
  • Only Sane Woman: Matilda.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: Watch out when Matilda enters a state of Tranquil Fury, as opposed to her Cheerful Child nature. That means she is ready to kick some serious ass, with or without powers.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Miss Honey, played by a South African, is a repeat offender. Very occasionally, Rhea Perlman forgot about Zinnia's squawky, Fran Drescher-y New York-type accent.
  • Parental Neglect: 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.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Harry negotiates with the Trunchbull to let Matilda into her school, in exchange for a car. Then he drives Matilda there the day that she starts so that she doesn't have to walk or take the bus.
    • The Wormwoods giving Matilda up for adoption, the movie version at least. They do so not to get rid of her but because they realize she would be better off with someone who could understand her. Zinnia even sweetly says "Ciao" wishing her the best.
  • Plucky Girl: Matilda.
  • [Popular Saying], But...: Miss Trunchbull's philosophy toward child discipline is a subversion of the biblical adage "Spare the rod and spoil the child."
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The reason for Matilda's Age Lift; it would be very hard for a five-year-old in real life to convincingly play an Adorably Precocious Child, so the scenes with the younger actresses are very short. Mara Wilson already had some acting experience and thus could play the part as a six-and-half-year-old kid who is a genius.
    • Likewise, the movie doesn't detail how Miss Trunchbull performed Financial Abuse on Miss Honey, hence why she lives in a cottage and doesn't fight for her inheritance. It's instead implied, with how small the cottage is and Matilda asking why she doesn't just "run away".
    • 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.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: It's implied that Trunchbull could easily kill or seriously injure the students as well as the teachers, but while most of her punishments are too ridiculous for parents to believe, death would be another story on school grounds. As Hortensia mentions, the Trunchbull's victims like her aren't okay, but they live through her torture. The only time Miss Trunchbull subverts this is when, in the middle of a Villainous Breakdown, threatens to break Miss Honey's arm. She doesn't go through with it because Miss Honey stands up to her, pulls away, and Trunchbull decides to focus on Matilda.
  • 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.
  • Race Lift: Lavender. In the book she is White; in the movie she is Black.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Miss Phelps the librarian. She notices that a child is walking to and from the library every day alone and reads all the books in the kids' section. While she is amazed, and more so when the four-year-old dives into literary classics, her priority is for Matilda's safety; she makes recommendations and gives Matilda permission to apply for a library card (something she'd probably be too young to do otherwise) so that she can check out as many books at a time as she wants (most libraries put a limit on borrowing) and not have to cross the street every day.
  • 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.
    • Matilda in the climax uses her powers in front of Miss Trunchbull to terrify her. The principal never puts two and two together because of her superstitious nature and fear of Magnus.
  • Related Differently in the Adaptation: In the book, Mrs. Trunchbull was the sister, not step-sister, of Miss Honey's mother.
  • Run for the Border: The Wormwoods flee to Guam after Harry's fraudulent activity is discovered. Smart viewers know that they're not really escaping anything, as Guam is a US territory.
  • Sadist Teacher: The Trunchbull, arguably the queen of this trope.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: After being put through so much hell at the hands of the students, Miss Trunchbull can't take it anymore and just leaves the school forever.
  • Setting Update: The book takes place in England, whereas the film is set in California.
  • 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 650 times a minute". And then there's Trunchbull's insult to one of the children during her first scene.
      Trunchbull: Your mommy... 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. The scene where Trunchbull is hunting Matilda through the kitchen also has echoes of the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park.
    • In the end of the movie, the Wormwoods, after giving up Matilda to be adopted by Miss Honey, make their getaway to Guam. In The Ratings Game, another movie produced by Danny DeVito and starring him and 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.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Harry and Zinnia Wormwood, with their constant pet names for each other: Lovekins, snickerdoodle, heartstrings, the list goes on. It's one of their few redeeming qualities.
  • Signature Headgear: Matilda always wears a hair ribbon, tied into a bow at the top of her head. This comes back to bite her later.
  • Sleep Mask: Mrs Wormwood wears a garish one with bright eyes embroidered onto it.
  • Sleeps with Both Eyes Open: Invoked. As Matilda is sneaking into her parent's room, her mother sits up and stares right at Matilda with huge eyes - then after a second, you realize it's an opaque sleep mask with eye designs. By the time she takes it off, Matilda is out of the room.
  • Smug Snake: The Trunchbull.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: It's not in evidence, anyway, despite all the child abuse going on. The FBI agents do threaten to send Matilda to an orphanage when she catches them snooping in her father's garage, but more so as a result of arresting her father.
  • 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.
  • Squirrels in My Pants: A variant; after Miss Trunchbull blames Matilda for putting the newt in her water glass, despite Matilda having been locked in the Chokey at the time Lavender sneaked in the newt, Matilda glares at Trunchbull's water glass and makes it tip, using her powers. The newt flies out of the glass and onto Miss Trunchbull. Cue several minutes of Miss Trunchbull freaking out and "dancing" in Matilda's words to get the newt off, while the entire class dives into hysterical laughter.
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • Miss Trunchbull orders Amanda Thripp to "chop off" her pigtails at the start of the movie. Miss Honey then simply undoes them so that Amanda comes to school with her hair down.
    • When she learns that Miss Trunchbull is Miss Honey's aunt, Matilda asks why she doesn't just leave rather than work for her former abuser. Miss Honey responds that she can't leave the students to the mercy of Miss Trunchbull, and besides which she loves teaching.
  • Sticky Situation: Harry Wormwood gets his hat superglued on him. He is understandably pissed.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: In the middle of a Madness Makeover following Matilda terrifying the Trunchbull with her powers and grabbing Lissie doll, as well as two chocolates, Miss Trunchbull demands her water jug and quips, "Hold the newts". It's unclear if she admits the prank was Actually Pretty Funny or a sign of her Villainous Breakdown. Either way, the Trunchbull is incredibly British in this moment.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Both Agent Bill and Matilda bring up the fact that the FBI agents don't have a search warrant to poke through her father's garage, and Matilda even mentions that they can go into federal prison.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: How Matilda probably felt, especially towards her family.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Miss Trunchbull after she finds 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.
  • Those Two Guys: The FBI agents trying to arrest Mr Wormwood.
  • 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 DeVito, and his actual wife, Rhea Perlman.
  • Too Clever by Half: Matilda sees the Trunchbull leaving her house, and convinces Miss Honey they can sneak in to grab her treasures: her father's painting and Lissie doll. Logically, she assumes Trunchbull will be gone long enough for the two of them to get in and out with no problem. What she doesn't anticipate, however, is Trunchbull having car problems as well as the strength to pull the car back to the house. The end result is a long moment of Alone with the Psycho where Matilda and Miss Honey have to evade the lady as she senses that she's not alone.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Wormwoods reject anything that is remotely intellectual and are far too eager to blow off Matilda's warnings that the authorities are watching them purely because of their blissful ignorance. When the FBI finally moves in on them they decide to flee to Guam of all places, an American overseas territory. Odds are they will not like what awaits them when they get there.
  • Tranquil Fury: What's scary about Matilda's powers is that she becomes strongest when she channels her anger into pure calm. She may laugh and giggle, but beware when she doesn't smile while using them. In the climax, she adopts this look when terrorizing the Trunchbull with a chalkboard message from "Magnus".
  • 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 either buy an overseas DVD release or wait until the movie's Blu-Ray release to own it in its original aspect ratio.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: When Matilda realizes she can make objects move when she gets angry, she has flashbacks to all the scenes when someone made her angry.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: An adorable, heartwarming story about a little girl with magic powers. And the insane Miss Trunchbull who murdered her step-brother-in-law, stole his daughter's inheritance, abused her for years (even going so far as to break her arm), then, while living in her murdered brother-in-law's house, terrorizes an entire school of children with some very cruel punishments (The Chokey, throwing them, you know... normal school punishments).
  • 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 foresee, causing her to lash out at them more violently than ever before. It doesn't help that her breakdown plays right into Matilda's favor, hastening her Humiliation Conga and subsequent permanent leave of the school. She also gets pretty damn jittery when Matilda gaslights her at her home. At least... until she realises what's happening.
  • Wham Line:
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The town where the movie takes place isn't known, but it seems to be somewhere in Southern California.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Ailurophobia. A superstitious Trunchbull fears black cats, and would panic should one pop up on her property.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Matilda. 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.
  • Writing Lines: When we're introduced to Trunchbull, she orders a student to write "I must obey Miss Trunchbull" sixty times.


Video Example(s):


Harry's Car Dealership

Harry Wormwood sales faulty cars to others.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (24 votes)

Example of:

Main / HonestJohnsDealership

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