A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
- In theaters: August 2, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: June 7, 2005
- Cast: Danny DeVito, Embeth Davidtz, Mara Wilson
- Director: Danny DeVito
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: elements of exaggerated meanness and ridicule, and for some mild language
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