Matthew Warchus’s film is a delightful and beautiful adaptation of the stage musical.
Twelve years after her musical debut in Stratford-upon-Avon, and after a successful West End run, a successful Broadway run, multiple tours, and multiple Olivier and Tony Award wins, Matilda graces the silver screen once again with Netflix’s Matilda the Musical. Adapted from the stage musical of the same name, which was adapted from the 1988 novel by Roald Dahl, Matilda the Musical tells the story of Matilda Wormwood (Alisha Weir), a gifted child with a propensity for reading. While Matilda is kind-hearted and beyond precocious, she is stuck in the unfortunate situation of being raised by abusive and neglectful parents (Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough), who are disgusted by their daughter’s intelligence. Matilda finds a respite in attending school, where her teacher, Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch), encourages her love of learning. But, when Matilda pokes the angry bear of the school’s headmaster, Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson), she must use her gifts to help stand up to the bullying headmaster, and bring justice to those who have been wronged.
Much like its source material, Matilda is a much closer adaptation to the Roald Dahl novel than the 1996 film directed by Danny DeVito. However, it is a brilliant adaptation of the stage musical. Directed by Matthew Warchus, who directed both the United Kingdom and United States stagings of the show, the film plays out like a stage musical in many ways. Fans of the original musical will likely be delighted by the many callbacks to the show throughout the film: from the choreography during “School Song,” to the direction of “Bruce.” Part of what made the stage musical so spectacular was its larger than life visual elements, from large moving set pieces to actors swinging over the audience. It perfectly mirrors the larger-than-life world that goes on in Matilda’s head. If anything, adapting the material to the screen only allows for more creativity in the storytelling. We can see the story of the escapologist and the acrobat that Matilda tells play out in ways that would have been harder to convey on stage. When Matilda sings “Quiet,” one of the more pensive numbers of the musical, we can literally see her imagine herself floating above everyone in a hot air balloon, instead of alone under a spotlight on stage. And yet, it never crosses the line into too much. This story has always been one of larger than life proportions, and one that is meant to be told as such. A difficult task for any director of any medium, but Warchus has now proven twice that for him, it at least appears effortless.
Tim Minchin’s score is also beautiful, keeping most of the original songs from the stage show, with the addition of a new duet sung between Miss Honey and Matilda during the end scene. Ellen Kane’s choreography is also incredibly impressive, and deserves some sort of award of its own. While TikTok has managed to make the choreography featured in “Revolting Children” a viral phenomenon, it is only the tip of a very large iceberg in terms of impressive staged numbers.
Also worth recognition is the phenomenal debut of Weir, who makes an absolute splash in the titular role. Weir maintains a perfect balance of the intelligence and precociousness that Matilda is known for, while still maintaining a level of childlike innocence and earnestness that keeps her grounded. Thompson’s Miss Trunchbull is also brilliant, and she serves as a real tour de force in the musical numbers, which are arguably the most difficult in the musical outside of any choreography demands. Furthermore, her comedic timing is as precise and spot on as the Trunchbull’s hammer throwing abilities. Lynch gives a beautiful performance as Miss Honey, keeping the same level of soft-spoken and tender-hearted gentleness in the role as one would expect, while still pulling through a level of humanity. Her solo in “When I Grow Up,” as well as the final scene shared between Miss Honey and Matilda are stand-out points of the film. Graham and Riseborough also give charming performances as the Wormwoods, as they maintain devilish and ignorant qualities without ever being cruel to the point of being unwatchable. However, compared to the role the Wormwoods play in the stage musical, they are arguably a bit underused.
While Matilda the Musical is superbly delightful for fans of the stage musical, it is enjoyable for anyone. If nothing else, it offers a gorgeous story that transcends beyond the obvious themes of the importance of learning and standing up to bullies, but still echoing the more nuanced and important themes of allowing children to thrive in their own strengths and finding family beyond the bonds of blood. It is not only a beautiful movie, but one of the better musical adaptations in recent years.
Should be Considered: Best Director, Best Production Design
Where to Watch: Netflix
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett