Throwback Thursday: Matilda (1996) Movie Review, A Beloved Childhood Classic

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Step back into your childhood with this '90s classic!

Matilda is one of those classic movies from your childhood that you can watch again and again into adulthood, as it is a genuinely good movie. The movie was, of course, based on the book Matilda, written by beloved children’s author Roald Dahl. And as a relief to everyone who read the book as a child, for the most part, the movie is very similar to the book itself. 

The story is about a little girl who is very smart and obsessed with reading, but her family environment is very unpleasant, emotionally and psychologically abusive. Faced with much adversity throughout the story, she soon realizes that adults shouldn’t be allowed to mistreat children. She also discovers that she has the gift of telekinesis, and this becomes a tool to help her punish adults who deserve it. The movie is a classic and heartwarming story of retribution perfect for the whole family.

Interestingly enough, this is a Danny DeVito film, produced and directed by him. He also plays the wicked dad, Mr. Wormwood, and his real life wife Rhea Perlman plays Mrs. Wormwood, the wicked mom. This is one of those films that makes you take a step back and appreciate Danny DeVito (especially after watching It’s Always Sunny in Pennsylvania in the past years).

I think the acting in Matilda is really great, especially as most of the actors were young kids. Their horror when Miss Trunchbull is around, their friendliness and camaraderie when interacting with each other. It is kind of cheesy and reminiscent of a fairytale, but that is the point. Especially seen with using a narrator throughout the movie.

Mara Wilson plays the character of Matilda (when she was only 9 years old) and does a really good job. She doesn’t talk too much, particularly because the character doesn’t have much of a voice in the environment she lives in, but her facial expressions say everything and her movements are so perfectly Matilda. She brings the character alive, showing her as a sweet, very smart young girl faced with adversity that wins over your heart every time.

Also, every scene in the movie is wonderfully presented and executed. Whether showing Matilda’s neglectful family or her learning how to use telekinesis, each scene is brilliantly constructed and also most importantly for a family movie—fun to watch. For example, the scene in the classroom where Matilda finally gives Miss Trunchbull what she deserves is iconic. As the chalk writes on the chalkboard by itself, all of the children read it aloud in unison – children reading the ghost’s words as if they were in class. Its masterful, creepy, and very amusing.

Overall, Matilda is a heartening film about the innocence of youth and the reality of abuse, clever and filled with childish whim, in classic Roald Dahl fashion.