It is really hard to adapt Roald Dahl’s stories into films. The dark comedy in his childhood stories have delighted kids for years but when translated into live action film it can come across as cruel and mean-spirited very easily. The latest attempt is an adaptation of the Tony award winning musical Matilda called appropriately Matilda the Musical and I’d say it’s mostly successful in attempting to convert this difficult material to the big screen (or Netflix screen…).
One thing fans of the Broadway show should be aware of is how much is cut for this version. There’s a good 30 minutes or more taken from the stage removed from the film. I understand this has to be done but unfortunately they removed a lot of the comic relief making it feel like a torture movie for children far too much. They do all they can to brighten up the production design and make things silly but without the comedic songs it’s hard to shake the feeling these kids are being imprisoned and abused. (I was especially sad to lose “Telly” and “Loud” as they are such funny songs from the Wormwoods).
Many Broadway fans have called Matilda this generation’s Annie and I can see why. They are both about bright bubbly characters in an orphanage-like environment with plucky songs to boost their spirits. My friend who coaches kid-actors told me she rehearses nothing but “Naughty,” “Revolting Children” and “Miracle” and I can see why. They are catchy tunes where the child performers get to shine.
In August I reviewed a production of Matilda at Payson Community Theater that was absolutely outstanding. The large energetic cast, choreography and incredible production design really won me over to this show, which I had previously been meh on. When it is done right it’s so energetic you can’t help but have a good time.
The best part of this movie version of the show is Emma Thompson as The Trunchbull (a role that is usually done in drag- and the version I saw in Payson they had a real life married couple playing Jenny and Trunchbull which I thought was a fun touch). The best sequence of the movie is “Bruce” where Thompson gets beaten by a kid who eats her giant chocolate cake as an act of protest.
I am glad the screenwriters didn’t feel a need to give us a Trunchbull sympathetic backstory like so many family stories do these days. She could just be an over-the-top villain that’s defeated by the kids. I miss those.
Lashana Lynch makes a great Jenny (or Miss Honey). I had no idea she can sing so well since she is usually in action roles. Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are fun as the Wormwoods but again I missed their songs.
The biggest weakness of the Broadway show is the fantasy sequences where Matilda tells the story of an escapologist and trapeze artist to her local librarian. The show is a little long and bloated as it is and these sections don’t do a lot for the overall story. You could easily remove them and the musical would be exactly the same. So, I’m not sure if they are removing over 30 minutes of material why they kept those sections in? That certainly wouldn’t have been my choice.
Nevertheless, if you are fan of musicals and in particular this musical, I think you’ll enjoy Matilda the Musical. It’s certainly worth a watch on Netflix for Thompson’s performance alone. I definitely think its many child fans will particularly love it.
7 out of 10