Matilda

Movie review by
M. Faust, Common Sense Media
Matilda Movie Poster Image
Offbeat dark fantasy gem is intense, sometimes scary.
  • PG
  • 1996
  • 102 minutes
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 43 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 74 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Though Matilda's decision to stand up for those who can't or won't stand up for themselves is admirable (as is her positive attitude), there's plenty of iffy stuff here. The movie is relatable for kids going through their own growing pains, but the fantasy-based nature of the way Matilda copes with her problems doesn't offer many realistic solutions for young viewers. The film discusses how "most ideas come from hard work and careful planning." 

Positive role models & representations

When Matilda's parents aren't neglecting her (leaving a 2-year-old to fend for herself for a great portion of the day, for example), they're berating her. Matilda's principal openly hates the children in her charge. Matilda decides to punish her parents -- but she also bravely stands up for others and almost always maintains a positive attitude. Matilda is an avid reader with a vivid imagination -- unlike her parents and brother, who want to watch TV all the time. 

Violence

Cartoonish violence, nearly all of it perpetrated by a bullying school principal. A girl is picked up by her pigtails and flung over a fence. A boy is tossed out of a window like a javelin. Children who displease the evil principal are put in "the chokey," a dark closet lined with nails and broken glass. A boy is forced to eat an entire gigantic chocolate cake in front of all his classmates; when he finishes, the angered principal smashes the giant cake plate on his head. Reference to suicide.

Sex
Language

One use of "hell," plus "oh my God" used as an exclamation. Also some "fake" profanity, in which adults use mildly rude phrases ("dog slime!") where they might otherwise swear. 

Consumerism

A box of Cheerios is in plain sight. Dented Budweiser cans. 

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Adults occasionally drink beer. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Matilda is a 1996 surreal family movie based on the book by Roald Dahl. It includes a lot of cartoonish violence, nearly all of it perpetrated by a bullying school principal. Children who displease the evil principal are put in "the chokey," a dark closet lined with nails and broken glass. A girl is picked up by her pigtails and flung over a fence. A boy is tossed out of a window like a javelin. A boy is forced to eat an entire gigantic chocolate cake in front of all his classmates; when he finishes, the angered principal smashes the giant cake plate on his head. There is reference to suicide in the story line and one use of "hell," plus "oh my God" used as an exclamation. When Matilda's parents aren't neglecting her, they're berating her -- so she decides to punish them. But she also stands up for the principal's victims. The film explores themes of youthful independence and personal identity.

User Reviews

Parent Written byTwin_mom February 5, 2010
We love many of Roald Dahl's stories and some of the movie adaptations, but both of my children and I hated it and turned it off after about 45 minutes. (L... Continue reading
Adult Written bywonder dove May 24, 2012

Beautifully crafted film!

One of my all-time favorite movies - even as an adult! This film is amazing, which is why it may not be suitable to some families. It's very magical and fu... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bymardoggie2013 March 27, 2010

Great for whole family!

This movie is very great and family friendly. The only concerns are violent/scary moments with Ms. Trunchbull and one or two curse words.
Kid, 9 years old August 12, 2011

BEST MOVIE EVER!

AWESOME MOVIE!! Watched it ever sense I was like 5! Matilda is a great role model because she learns to take care of herself,(Like this scene where the parents... Continue reading

What's the story?

From the moment she's born, MATILDA Wormwood (Mara Wilson) couldn't be more different from her family. Her father (Danny DeVito) is an unscrupulous used car salesman, and her mother (Rhea Perlman) is a ninny who spends every day playing bingo. Matilda learns to take care of herself, and she's incredibly smart. When her father finally allows her to go to school, it's a dream come true for Matilda. Her sprits sag only a little when she finds that the principal, Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris), openly hates all kids. Fortunately, Matilda's teacher, Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz), recognizes Matilda's exceptional abilities (which include some telekinetic powers) and becomes her loyal friend.

Is it any good?

Based on Roald Dahl's popular book, this fantasy explores themes of youthful independence and personal identity. For younger children, though, especially those having some particularly difficult growing pains, Matilda may nurture morbid thoughts. Matilda is able to free herself from a family that's thoroughly boorish, but kids in real life have to learn to make connections with the people around them and not look for ways to run away. It's a difficult lesson, but most kids will accept that this is an exaggerated fantasy. In fact, the exaggeration is what makes it so much fun. As both star and director, DeVito retains the devilish sense of fun that marks most of his films. Although he hasn't really made a film here for kids (at least not younger ones), he knows how to appeal to and present a child's perspective. However, potentially scary scenes, such as Miss Trunchbull's spinning a girl around by her pigtails, may be too much for sensitive kids.

There are few people who don't sometimes feel unappreciated, misused, and misunderstood. Adolescents are especially prone to such feelings as they come to grips with the world around them. Those are the feelings that this movie recognizes and confronts. Young Matilda has a bum deal with a family that can't begin to understand how special she is. Yet she never lets this get her down for long, always making the best of whatever situation she's in.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about movies based on books. After seeing Matilda, are you curious to read the book? Or did reading the book make you curious to see the movie? What makes a movie a "good" or "bad" adaptation of a book?

  • Is Matilda a positive role model? What about the other characters?

  • What do you think is the movie's overall message about reading? About watching television? 

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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