It is quite possible that the Trunchbull sees herself as a survivor of a harsh world, and wishes to toughen up the children to do the same. Her overall message seems to be "the world is harsh for no reason; get used to it." It is even possible that she wants to save them an even harsherBreak the Cutie, but severely overestimates the harshness of the outside world, and has become He Who Fights Monsters, delivering a far more harsh Break the Cutie than anything else is likely to.
Hints are dropped that the Trunchbull had her own tough childhood ("Glad I never was one [a child]" and "Not for long anyway; I became a woman very quickly", for example). She also clearly values physical and mental strength and resilience, as evidenced by her Olympic career, constant shows of power, and some of her dialogue. Furthermore, some of her dialogue implies that what she hates most about children and childhood is childlike innocence and naiveté.
Angst? What Angst?: Matilda is The Un-Favourite, stuck in a grade beneath her intellect, and faced with a cruel headmistress. In spite of this, she's a cheerful kid who is genuinely nice to everyone. One of the subtext points of the book: Matilda was in a crappy situation, more than one actually, but remained a good person throughout. She's more than a survivor, she's come through her ordeals wiser and still human. Even when she discovers her telekinetic powers, they're used only to punish the Big Bad for good and not mistreat others as a bully. Matilda could have caused a nightmare like Carrie, Anakin, Andrew, Credence, or Lucy (eitherone) with those powers, and yet luckily she didn't harm anyone.
Complete Monster: Agatha Trunchbull is the headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School who rules the school with an iron fist. Shying away from illegal caning, the Trunchbull opts for more torturous methods easily dismissed by parents as wild stories. A Child Hater extraordinaire, the Trunchbull subjects the children to near-fatal punishments, her favorite being "the Chokey"—a refurnished cupboard laced with broken glass and nails. Out of greed, the Trunchbull possibly murdered her brother-in-law for the inheritance, and violently abused her niece, Jennifer Honey, breaking her arm in a spur of rage. Unrepentant, the Trunchbull threatens to break Miss Honey's arm again when she stands up to her. A psychotic disciplinarian who prides herself with never having a childhood, the Trunchbull set the standard for sadist teachers everywhere.
The Musical: Agatha Trunchbull commits all the acts from the book, along with additional crimes. Trunchbull is a former Olympic hammer thrower, who is depicted in onscreen flashbacks as making money from a circus where she forced her trapeze artist sister—who was pregnant—to work at the circus or face jail, with Trunchbull eventually killing her sister by cutting the rope. The baby—Jennifer "Jenny" Honey—survived. Trunchbull was then invited by her oblivious brother-in-law to help care for Jenny, regularly abusing the latter when her father wasn't home and scaring her into submission. When Jenny's father came home early one day to find his daughter starved and tied up in the cellar, he went to confront Agatha, only to mysteriously disappear, with strong implications that Agatha murdered him. In the present day, Trunchbull became headmistress of a school. She commits all the acts of child abuse seen in the book and locks Matilda in a torture box known as a Chokey, which she regularly used on children. The Trunchbull's cruelty expands in scope when the climax of the musical has her attempting to replace all classrooms with Chokeys to create a school system where children will be tortured and "neither seen nor heard". Already known as one of the most preeminent child haters in adolescent fiction, this version of the Trunchbull still stands out as truly monstrous.
Family-Unfriendly Aesop: Some parents see this in Matilda's adoption by Miss Honey. As in, Matilda allowed the first nice person she saw to adopt her. When you consider the actions of some teachers these days, some parents find the Aesop unfriendly just because the nice adult happened to be a teacher.
Paranoia Fuel: There really are stupid and terrible people in the world, in positions of power and authority over you, who will hate you for no reason, and sometimes get away with doing horrible things.
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: Sometimes your biological family are just plain terrible people and it's in your best interest to get away from them. Both the film and book end with Matilda getting away from her parents and living with Miss Honey who provides her with the love and support she was denied at home and this is presented as being a happy ending. It's an important counterpoint to the message that people should stick by their biological families no matter what, which can be taken sadly internalized by many kids that they should put up with abuse and mistreatment due to supposed parental love that, in too many instances, just isn't there.
Values Dissonance: Agatha Trunchbull's abuse of children, even by both by 1988 note book's release and 1996 note film's release standards, wouldn't be acceptable at all and social services would've been on her case on but none of the children could find a way to report since their parents wouldn't believe them... at the time. Nowadays, parents would get suspicious and many children would have a smart-phone to record their proof. In fact, with anti-bullying laws and social media, Trunchbull would've been caught on the spot and the Wormwood family would have to deal with Social Services. It's worth noting, though, that the book is based on Roald Dahl's memories of his own boarding school, where corporal punishment (or more creative ones like eating soap flakes) could be administered for any offense as small as snoring or breaking a pen nib. The Trunchbull is also based on his daughter Liccy's headmistress, who had a fondness for elaborate punishments.
What an Idiot!: Mr. Wormwood's approach to selling cars. He essentially cuts so many corners on the "repairs" he does on the crappy, broken down cars he buys for resale that they're not so much "repaired" as "capable of feigning quality for two miles before breaking down". It never occurs to him that his dealership might get a negative reputation and eventually receive no business at all because everyone knows that the cars are little more than spray-painted junk.
The Woobie: Miss Honey, Matilda (at least before she's able to control her powers), the entire student body, and in the book, the school cook as well, who is just a frail, old woman who disapproves of the abuse about to happen, but clearly has no choice but to play her role. Unfortunately, the film makes her appear to be an accomplice of Trunchbull's.
Michael Wormwood in the film. He's meant to be seen as an unsympathetic Jerkass since he's downright nasty to his sister and participates in his parents' dirty dealings. But Harry and Zinnia have likely conditioned their son to be this way, meaning there's Fridge Brilliance: Michael has figured out that by conforming to his parents' lifestyle rather than rejecting it like Matilda does, he won't be picked on. Matilda is exceptionally brave and intelligent; she can stand on her own and doesn't need her parents' approval to be fulfilled. Michael is neither brave nor intelligent enough to resist the pressure to become a mean, lazy, TV-watching Wormwood.
There's a small group of people who believe Zinnia, while a neglectful parent, actually does care for Matilda, especially in the end when she lets her be adopted by Miss Honey. There's a possibility that, like Michael, she is just forced into the negative lifestyle of Mr. Wormwood and considering how she signs the papers to let her daughter live a happy life, this could help her image.
Cult Classic: Was not a huge hit in the theaters, but has since found many appreciative fans among those who grew up in the nineties and is now considered a classic children's film.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: At Mr. Wormwood's dealership, Harry shows Michael the tools of the trade, namely supergluing a fender on, using a two-bit drill to rewind the odometer and putting sawdust into the pipes. Matilda is disgusted with how her dad cheats and potentially endangers lives, but Michael is impressed with the drill bit. It does look pretty cool, even if "it's cheating".
Evil Is Cool: As rotten as the Trunchbull is, she's pretty badass. She's a former Olympic athlete who's still in good enough shape to lift a car up and turn it around, can break chains with her bare hands, can sense when someone's inside her house and is very able to nearly catch them. Pam Ferris also makes her a rather entertaining Troll.
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: The Wormwoods are supposed to be portrayed as incompetent and neglectful parents for laughs, but leaving baby Matilda in the car when they get home can leave a sour taste in the mouths of those who remember the rash of deaths caused by parents leaving their children locked in cars in 2014.
Genius Bonus: The ending has the Wormwoods (sans Matilda) make a run for Guam in an attempt to evade the FBI. Guam is part of US territory. Even worse, the FBI also has jurisdiction there.
Matilda ends up Happily Adopted by the end. Although Mara Wilson's mother tragically passed away during filming, her father later remarried and she has a very close relationship with her stepmother.
One that Mara outlined in her autobiography. She discovered that she had OCD in her teen years after reading a book called Kissing Doorknobs - about a girl with OCD and she saw the similarities. She later found out that the author of the book was actually the mother of her co-star in this - Kira Spencer Hesser, who played Hortensia.
"They're all mistakes, children. Filthy, nasty things. Glad I never was one!"
"The apple never rots far from the tree!"
"Your mommy, IS A TWIT!"
"In this classroom, in this school... I AM GOD!!"
Nausea Fuel: For those with sensitive stomachs, the scene with Bruce and the massive chocolate cake is this. So too, the scene that shows the Trunchbull at home, tucking into a huge slice of cake with just her hands and a butcher knife, then wiping her mouth with her hand. Her grunting while eating doesn't help in the slightest.
No Yay: Mara Wilson had this reaction to discovering that there is Matilda and Miss Honey slash fiction out there.
What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: The film has a bunch of kids getting hammer-tossed out of windows, first-graders getting packed into a closet with rusty nails and adults downright insulting children's intelligence and calling them hurtful names. Then again this is Roald Dahl we're talking about. On the upside, the abuse isn't that severe and the protagonist does win in the end. On top of that, it's a family film, so the violence is mainly for the adults, no matter how cruel it may seem.
Award Snub: When the 2013 Tony Awards came around the four little girls playing Matilda (Oona, Bailey, Milly, and Sophia) were snubbed from the Best Actress in a Musical award unlike their West End counterparts, who were nominated for the equivalent Olivier Award and won. The excuse was that the judges might not have had a chance to see all four girls, which is fine until you discover the three boys who played Billy Elliot were eligible and won. Instead they get Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre. And fans were NOT happy that Matilda didn't win Best Musical — it lost out to Kinky Boots.
Awesome Music: "Revolting Children" is a show-stopping, standout number.
Crosses the Line Twice: The Trunchbull giving Lavender a long and obviously made-up word to spell, under threat of being put in the Chokey? Not funny. Warning her that it has silent letters? Hilarious.
Ear Worm: So many from the musical. "Naughty", "When I Grow Up" and "Revolting Children" in particular.
Ensemble Dark Horse: Subverted, whilst all Matildas are reasonably praised, West End Matildas Sophia and Eleanor are the most popular seemingly.
Friendly Fandoms: At least on Tumblr, there's a good deal of overlap between this show's fanbase and that of another West End musical based on a Roald Dahl novel: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (The shows also share a choreographer, and there have been child actors in the West End who've logged time in both.)