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    Book (plus all adaptations in general 
  • Acceptable Political Targets: Miss Trunchbull is clearly a caricature of then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • 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 harsher Break 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 (either one) with those powers, and yet luckily she didn't harm anyone.
    • Both the book and film lampshade this about Miss Honey. She's a Cool Teacher and Nice Girl who checks on the kids after the Trunchbull "educates" them, and a Mama Bear to boot; the only thing that will make her stand up to the Trunchbull is if the latter physically abuses her students. We find out that Agatha Trunchbull is her aunt and was her abusive guardian since Miss Honey was five. Miss Honey refuses to partake more than a few details, including that she got beatings, her aunt would half-drown her if she didn't pass muster in the tub, and she had to surrender her wages for ten years on the threat of more physical abuse while receiving one pound a week allowance. Yet, as the narrator in the film wisely puts it, Jennifer Honey never let her trauma affect her students or teaching.
  • 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 murdered her brother-in-law for his 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.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: While Trunchbull's over-the-top reactions to minor things like sneaking M&Ms into class or having pig-tails are excessive and cruel, half the time they are so over-the-top that one can't help but laugh at them. The book has Matilda remark that this is exactly the point: since she is so over the top, even if one of the children were to talk to their parents about what she does at school, it would sound so fanciful and unlikely nobody would believe it.
  • Fanfic Fuel: A common crossover theory with Harry Potter is Matilda turning out to be a Muggle-born witch and going to Hogwarts.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • While expressing indignation at Matilda asking him for a book, Mr. Wormwood talks about how the family already has "a lovely telly with a 12-inch screen". Nowadays, you can buy televisions with much bigger screen sizes than twelve inches for a reasonable price, and would actually have more trouble finding a 12-inch one for sale.
    • Pam Ferris would go on to play a much nicer headmistress in Nativity!.
  • Moe:
    • Matilda and Miss Honey are both misunderstood Cute Bookworms who remain sweet and kindhearted despite their horrible lives.
    • Amanda Thripp, especially in the movie. In the book she's implied to be one of the older kids, but the movie turns her into The Cutie of Matilda's class, and she looks very innocent.
  • 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.
    • Lampshaded by Matilda, just because someone is an adult, that doesn't necessarily make them right. And specifically in the situation of Matilda's family, adults (through a number of reasons) may be incorrect in their decisions and can hurt their children, even if their intentions are not necessairly evil per se. You can see that the Wormwoods actually believe that their form of parenting is in Matilda's best interest since they see nothing wrong with the way they (and their older child Michael) were brought up and believe Matilda is just acting out.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Lavender catches a newt at a local pond and stashes it in her pencil box with some water and pond grass. She may not know any better, but that seems already stressful for the newt before the Trunchbull smacks it off her.
    • Agatha Trunchbull's abuse of children, even by 1988 note  and 1996 note  standards, wouldn't be acceptable at all. Social services would've been on her if she was reported... But none of the children ever reported her since their parents wouldn't believe them... Nowadays, however, 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. 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.
    • The Wormwood family might also have to deal with Social Services, or at least it's possible they'd be under more scrutiny than in either of the originals.
    • Dahl's anti-television bias is pretty apparent here, even more so than his portrayal of Mike Teavee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over twenty years earlier. Matilda's family, who love television, are unpleasant, unintelligent individuals with emphasis on the father in particular, who is later revealed to be a con artist selling cheap, barely-functional cars. Meanwhile, Matilda herself, who loves books, is a kind girl and literally described as a genius. Since it has become accepted that there is nothing wrong with watching television unless it becomes an obsession, and that both books and television have their individual advantages/disadvantages, Dahl's "Television makes you a stupid, horrible person" beliefs have become questionable.
  • Values Resonance:
    • Mrs. Phelps letting Matilda read adult classics, telling her not to worry about the parts she doesn't understand, which is implied to be rape in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. This feels more relevant with Banned Books Week.
    • In the wake of the #MeToo movement and cell phone videos documenting abuse and police brutality, the film and the book hold up well highlighting the importance of validating the trauma of children and other marginalized people coming forward about being victims. They also emphasize the importance of validating your children's individuality and feelings, like if Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood were kinder to Matilda and validated her intelligence and opinions rather than belittling her, they would have had a much better relationship with her.
  • 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.

    Movie 
  • Alternate Character Interpretation:
    • 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.
    • Mrs. Trunchbull could very well be throwing children for their amusement, but without wanting to break her tough image with them. The girl she throws doesn't seem any worse for it, and even the black cat landed on its feet and was okay.
    • The FBI agents, and the fact that they break into the garage without a search warrant. On the one hand, they had been gathering ample information about Mr. Wormwood and have months' worth of video footage and photography to show he's been peddling stolen car parts. They have No Sympathy towards the fact that Matilda and her brother are innocent victims of the thefts and smuggling, though they're just kids. Then again, they broke the law to build their case, and tried intimidating Matilda when she busted them. Are they only Inspector Javert or did they get cocky?
  • Angst? What Angst?: Most of the kids are beaten down by the Trunchbull, except one: Amanda Thripp. You would expect that being singled out for her pigtails and getting tossed over the fence, narrowly missing the spikes on top, would be traumatizing. Nope. Amanda smiles when she lands safely, if bedraggled, and delivers the flowers she scooped up to Miss Honey, who thanks her. Even Matilda was bewildered by this incident as the kids around her talk casually if Amanda will make it over the fence.
  • 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 starting in The New '10s.
  • Genius Bonus: The ending has the Wormwoods (sans Matilda) making a run for Guam in an attempt to evade the FBI. Guam is a US territory. Even worse, the FBI has jurisdiction there.
  • Girl-Show Ghetto: Subverted. While the film was a disappointment at the box office, it acquired a huge fanbase of both genders - regardless of Matilda being the protagonist.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • This film was released two years after another movie that also starred a young brunette girl named Mathilda who lives with an abusive family and develops a close, family-like relationship with a caring adult that has a tragic backstory of losing a loved one. That same little girl and adult would work together to take down a Large Ham villain who just so happens to hold an otherwise relatively normal occupation and a creepy obsession with a harmless hobby not to mention that a branch of American law enforcement is involved in the story. That movie too had a Former Child Star as one of the main leads and the antagonist was portrayed by a British actor.
    • A character played by Pam Ferris bullies the main character and eventually angers them enough that they use their powers to give them their comeuppance? Sounds familiar...
  • Heartwarming in Hindsight:
    • 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.
  • LGBT Fanbase: Between Mara Wilson having come out of the closet and the heavy focus on female relationships and found-family, it's picked up one. Wilson was justifiably rather miffed at the discovery that Matilda/Ms. Honey was a ship, though she appreciates the stories about how more than a few younger girls had a Precocious Crush on the latter.
  • Love to Hate:
    • The Trunchbull in the movie, mainly because Pam Ferris' performance makes her entertaining despite all the atrocities she commits.
    • The Wormwoods are abusive parents, but Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman are so entertaining and delightfully evil that they're a highlight of the movie.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "Much too good for children!"
    • "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. And if it isn't the sheer size of the bloody thing that does it, it's the fact that it's made "with the sweat and tears of the lunch lady", who is snorting and wiping herself in a highly graphic manner purely to gross out the assembly. 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.
    "This is Dahl, not Nabokov!"
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Miss Phelps as the first adult who is kind to Matilda and only appears in the first few minutes of the film. She notices that a child is walking alone to the library every day and devouring all the children's books. Her response is to start recommending classics, helping Matilda apply for a library card, and teaching her to Xerox so that Matilda gets the adoption papers she needs at the end of the movie.
    • Amanda Thripp only has three scenes, but she is a Badass Adorable. She stands up to the Trunchbull, just shakes the dirt off after the lady tosses her over the fence, and never loses her composure when threatened.
  • Sacred Cow: Fans of this movie really don't like people speaking ill of it. Doug Walker learned this the hard way when he was bombarded with messages from fans begging or even demanding that he not do a Nostalgic Critic review (this, for the record, is why he stopped posting upcoming reviews).
  • Ship-to-Ship Combat: Some of the fanbase prefer Matilda/Miss Honey over Matilda/Lavender.
  • Squick: The entire scene where Trunchbull forces Bruce to consume a massive chocolate cake, made with the "sweat and blood" of the school's elderly and unhygienic cook. Throughout the entire scene we get numerous closeups of the poor kid trying to force down the gigantic pastry, and while he manages to finish it he comes dangerously close to losing his lunch.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Matilda walking by herself to the library, crossing a busy road, when she's four. None of the adults blink an eye as they walk with her in groups. Miss Phelps expresses some concern but has a reasonable compromise: give Matilda a library card so she doesn't have to walk every day and can get as many books as she likes. These days, in such an affluent area, there would at least be a crossing guard or some adult who noticed this situation wasn't normal.
    • With a dash of Jerkass Has a Point. The establishing scene for Matilda's father has him grumbling over the $5,000 hospital bill for her delivery and care, with particular annoyance that $9.25 was charged for a bar of soap. Whilst the intention is to establish him as a petty-minded, uncaring man with skewed priorities, a British viewer (or by extension, a viewer from any other country with a single-payer health system) can't help but sympathise a little with his disgust.
  • 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 (Amanda is even perfectly chipper after getting thrown over the fence) 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.
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    Musical 
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Compared to the Flat Character in the book or the Jerkass chip off the old block in the film, Michael in the musical is an Adaptational Dumbass who spends most of his time staring slackjawed at the telly and barely comprehending anything around him, and he doesn't take part in any of his parents verbal abuse towards his sister. While it's clear that his parents favor him over Matilda, he's obviously being neglected in a different way by not receiving any proper parenting. And unlike Matilda, Michael isn't smart enough to realize it and doesn't have any supportive adults in his life. It's easy to feel sorry for him when, through no fault of his own, he ends the show with the same horrible parents Matilda escapes from.
  • Award Category Fraud: Bertie Carvel won the Olivier and was nominated for the Tony for his performance as Miss Trunchbull, even though the role is really supporting, with Matilda being the only true lead. Given Carvel's performance was so universally acclaimed, it's likely he was pushed there since he could wind up winning regardless of category. This worked out at the Oliviers, but not at the Tonys.
  • 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. This surprise loss has been theorized by many to be more a matter of Matilda's much talked about behind the scenes drama of moving from the West End to Broadway, as while Kinky Boots is seen as a good show, Matilda was far more acclaimed.
    • Many were also upset by Bertie Carvel's show stealing performance as Trunchbull losing the Tony to Billy Porter's work in Kinky Boots. Though many have noted that Carvel should've been nominated as a featured performer rather than a lead. It's widely agreed that Carvel would've won if he was placed down instead. Though it's worth noting that his lead placement allowed Gabriel Ebert to win the category for his excellent work as Mr. Wormwood, and Carvel would go on to win a Tony a few years later.
    • Adding to the list of controversial losses to Kinky Boots, Tim Minchin's brilliant score wound up losing to Cyndi Lauper's more generic pop soundtrack. This win has been accused by many as the Tonys going for the bigger name rather than genuine quality.
  • Awesome Music: "Revolting Children" is a show-stopping, standout number.
  • Complete Monster: 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 for Trunchbull to murder him and frame it as suicide. 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.
  • 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.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Subverted, whilst all Matildas are reasonably praised, West End Matildas Sophia and Eleanor are the most popular seemingly.
  • Fandom-Enraging Misconception: Just remember, whatever it says in the Playbill, it's "The Escapologist". NOT "The Escape Artist".
  • Fandom Rivalry: As noted above, this show controversially lost several Tonys to Kinky Boots, causing a bit of bad blood. The fact that Kinky Boots would go on to last longer on Broadway than Matilda, certainly helped by those wins only exacerbates this.
  • 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.)
  • Shocking Moments: The revelation that the story which Matilda appeared to be writing was actually true and about Miss Honey's parents.
  • WTH, Casting Agency?: After the announcement that Ralph Fiennes would play Trunchbull, the film then broke the Original Cast Precedent by dropping Fiennes and casting Emma Thompson apparently due to fears that a man in the role would anger the transgender community, something that never occurred in London or New York. While casting a woman in the role isn’t necessarily bad, the fact that Thompson has none of the character's hulking physique (tall for a woman, but positively tiny and slender compared to other Trunchbulls) and isn't a strong singer doesn't help. And even then, there's the matter of many fans saying that Bertie Carvel should've been allowed to recreate his role due to perfectly shaping it and still being regarded as the the greatest Trunchbull after many others followed.

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