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YMMV / Matilda

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  • 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 from an even harsher Break the Cutie, but severely overestimates the harshness of the outside world, and has become She 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.
    • Did the Trunchbull really kill Magnus, or was she just scared by the floating chalk threatening her? If she didn't, did he actually kill himself, or did a third character murder him?
  • 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.
  • Applicability: The fact that the Trunchbull punishes children in such over the top and creative ways specifically so their parents wouldn't believe them is quite applicable for victims of abuse. Not just children, but also elderly and disabled people as well.
  • Base-Breaking Character: The Wormwood parents. Some fans find them to be interesting and funny characters while other fans hate them for being Abusive Parents towards Matilda and just want them gone. Mr. Wormwood being played by the ever-so popular Danny DeVito in the 1996 film doesn't help.
  • 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 abused her niece, Jennifer Honey. 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 that 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.
  • Love to Hate: Miss Trunchbull is a completely absurd and over-the-top Child Hater caricature, to the point where it's hilarious.
  • 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.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Miss Trunchbull does some horrific things to the kids, but really, her behavior and punishments are all so utterly ridiculous that it's hard to truly hate her for it. What does make her hateable, however, is when it's heavily implied that she murdered Miss Honey's father (her brother-in-law) and framed it as suicide so she could possess the property that was rightfully Honey's, along with making her her lifelong slave. The crime is much less absurd and is not Played for Laughs.
  • 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.
  • Spiritual Adaptation: The plot is very like a family-friendly version of Carrie.
  • Values Dissonance: Dahl's anti-television bias is pretty blatant here, even more so than his portrayal of Mike Teavee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Matilda's family, who love television, are unpleasant, stupid people, especially the father, who is a con artist selling cheap, barely-functional cars. Meanwhile, Matilda, who loves books, is a kind-hearted genius. Since it has become accepted that there is nothing wrong with watching television as long as it's in moderation and that both books and television have their advantages/disadvantages, Dahl's 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. The idea of trusting children to consider challenging or "adult" ideas feels more relevant, as attempts to censor books or punish children for reading the "wrong" ones have increased in The New '10s, and as countermeasures like Banned Books Week have arisen in response.
    • 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.
    • The ending. Where many other children's stories end by reconciling dysfunctional families, and urging the protagonist to forgive their family members and stay close to them just because "they're your family," Matilda is allowed to leave her Abusive Parents in the end and find a new home with Miss Honey, who loves her and appreciates her as she is. This is especially relevant for modern children of abusive families or those whose identity is somehow rejected by their parents.
  • Vanilla Protagonist: Matilda's personality and love for reading sets a contrast when she's surrounded by her screwed up but colorful family. She's their Foil. There's also the hammy Trunchbull.
  • 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.

  • Adaptation Displacement: American audiences in particular are much more familiar with the movie, as opposed to the book. It helps that the evil characters are memorably hammy with Danny DeVito as Matilda's father and Pam Ferris playing Trunchbull.
  • 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. However, 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.
    • 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?
    • Harry Wormwood, thanks to Danny DeVito pulling double duty as the narrator. One could infer that the narrator is actually Harry looking back on his fatherhood and regretting the way he treated Matilda.
  • 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.
  • Awesome Music: "To the Library and Beyond", the movie's main theme, is damned near burned into the memory of everyone who watched the movie as a child.
  • Complete Monster: Agatha Trunchbull has all of her book crimes, plus some ones unique to the movie. When Mr. Wormwood sells her a dodgy car, the Trunchbull blames Matilda for it and throws her into the Chokey. When Matilda and Ms. Honey sneak into her house, the Trunchbull grabs her hammer-throwing equipment and hunts them down with the intent to kill them — albeit she didn't know it was them. When Matilda humiliates her for the final time, the Trunchbull throws a boy out a window and charges at Lavender a few minutes later, intending to injure or even kill her. When Ms. Honey stands up to her, she threatens that she broke her arm once and can do it again.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Bruce being forced to eat an 18-inch chocolate cake in front of the entire student body? Very intense. The nasty implications that the cake is literally filled with the cook's sweat and blood? Pure and utter Nausea Fuel. The movie taking something as simple as a boy eating cake seriously? Hilarious.
  • Cult Classic: Was not a huge hit in the theaters, but has since found many appreciative fans among those who grew up in The '90s 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".
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Despite being a minor character, Bruce is decently popular with the fanbase due to many feeling sorry for him having to eat a gigantic chocolate cake that is subtly implied to be filled with the cook's literal sweat, blood and tears.
  • 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.
  • Fountain of Memes: Trunchbull, being a Large Ham, has plenty of quotable phrases.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Harry declares, "I'm big, you're little", while telling Matilda off. Mara Wilson grew to be taller than Danny Devito while going through puberty.
  • 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.
  • 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's reaction when she discovered 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.
  • Signature Scene: Bruce being forced to eat an entire chocolate cake.
  • 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, Matilda's parents would get a visit from CPS.
    • Matilda's father is introduced grumbling over the $5,000 hospital bill for her delivery and care, with particular annoyance that a bar of soap costed $9.25. Whilst it's used to establish him as a uncaring man with skewed priorities, viewers from countries with a single-payer health system like Britain would sympathize 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • Mandela Effect: The Chokey is often remembered as an Iron Maiden, but is actually just a closet with spikes.
  • Shocking Moments: The revelation that the story that Matilda appeared to be writing was actually true and about Miss Honey's parents.
  • Suspiciously Similar Song: Several fans have noted similarities between the tune for Telly and the theme song for The Muppet Show.