Matilda

 
Offbeat fantasy gem, but too dark for young kids.
  • Review Date: October 2, 2005
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 1996
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value
Not applicable
Positive messages

While 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, too. 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.

Positive role models

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.

Violence & scariness

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.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable
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
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults occasionally drink (beer).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this often surreal family movie based on the book by Roald Dahl 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. 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?

Based on Roald Dahl's popular book, this fantasy explores themes of youthful independence and personal identity. 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?

QUALITY
 

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 MATILDA 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.

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, 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. Potentially scary scenes, such as Miss Trunchbull's spinning a girl around by her pigtails, are never really frightening because they're just too silly and the movie itself is so non-threatening.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about movies based on books. After seeing the movie, 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 good role model? What about the other characters?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 2, 1996
DVD release date: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

This review of Matilda was written by

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent Written byTwin_mom February 5, 2010
age 7+
 
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. (Later I watched the end by myself.) My 7-year-olds said they were scared by the hateful parents and violent teacher, even though they realized that it was all exaggerated and supposed to be humorous They also disliked the bleakness of the surroundings. The movie is so dark and depressing in the depiction of the adults who are all either clueless, indifferent or outright abusive that the positive message about a child's self-determination gets lost. Too much focus is on the violence and abuse perpetrated by adults who are supposed to love and protect Matilda. Also, it begs the question: How would Matilda fare without her exceptional powers and abilities? Where does it leave a regular kid in a terrible situation? Hopeless.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent of a 7 year old Written bySealrockpoet October 21, 2010
age 9+
 

Over the top violence could reinforce child's dislike of school authority

This movie is over the top, when it comes to violence. Too much, too extreme, and each incident of violence goes on and on. True, it's fantasy, and true, it's cartoon-like, but does this mean that cartoon violence is okay? The heroine is cute, and winsome, and brave ... but her solutions to the problems aren't realistic. Also, if a young viewer already has issues with school and/or authority, this film would reinforce a dislike of both school AND authority.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Great messages
Great role models
Adult Written bywonder dove May 24, 2012
age 8+
 

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 fun with a very good message and positive role models! Matilda grows up in a bad environment, with her mother obsessed with her own self image and her father dealing in illegal activities (taking advantage of others and selling fake car parts) and a very annoying brother who bullies her - she takes on a natural magical ability that helps her through it. It has lots of kiddy scares, some very mean characters (which is why some people are put off by it (hey, it's a movie! and it's supposed to have a villain..or two!) Matilda's character is very gentle, sweet and caring...as is her teacher who finally adopts her from her terrible family. A great ending will have you smiling.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models

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