The heroine of “Matilda” is a girl who is smart, not just somewhat smart, but really smart. She’s smarter than her parents–if that is genetically possible, or maybe they’ve dumbed themselves down. Instead of becoming the object of ridicule at her school, she becomes the heroine, saving her fellow classmates from the bullying of the head mistress (a term borrowed from the book, where in the U.S. she should be a principal) and finding herself a better home. The movie is based on the 1988 Roald Dahl book of the same name. This movie is strictly for kids or the kid still in adults because it might give kids some bad ideas.
The 1996 TriStar Pictures stars Los Angeles-born Mara Wilson who was about 11 at the time of the movie and the movie is dedicated to her mother, Suzie Shapiro Wilson who passed away while the movie was in production (of breast cancer). Wilson was also in the 1993 “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
The movie is narrated by Danny DeVito who also plays Matilda’s father Harry. DeVito’s then-wife, Rhea Perlman, plays Zinnia, Matilda’s mother. Harry is a dishonest used car salesman who neglects his daughter in favor of his son, Michael, who is older. Zinnia is more worried about her looks, especially her bottle-blond hair and her bingo games.
Zinnia prefers to use the TV as a babysitter, but the precocious Matilda discovered the local library at age four and begins reading. This is highly discouraged by her parents, but at six, she begins to retaliate by mixing Harry’s hair oil with Zinnia’s hair dye so his brown hair becomes blond. She later puts glue in his hat, causing his hat to stick to his head. But Matilda has other powers. One day, she makes the TV explode.
Harry finally enrolls Matilda in a private school, Crunchem Hall, run by the violent Agatha Trunchbull (Pam Ferris). There, Matilda meets the first person to truly appreciate how smart she is, her teacher Jennifer Honey (Embeth Davidtz). Honey is sweet but easily bullied by Trunchbull and we soon learn why: Trunchbull is her aunt.
Matilda will help her classmates and Honey defeat the cruel Trunchbull for a happily-ever-after ending. When he flees the authorities due to his various shady dealings, Matilda is left with Honey, but with DeVito narrating the tale you get the feeling that things weren’t so sour with her parents in the end.
Under the direction of DeVito, Wilson’s Matilda isn’t sappy or overly precocious. She is rather plain looking and somewhat matter-of-fact.
“Matilda” is a story for geeky kids because the hero is a smart girl who doesn’t let other people dumb her down and uses her mind-over-matter, in this case a bit of telekinesis, to bring justice and find her own happiness. How often do movies allow a girl or a brainy one to be the hero of a tale? “Matilda” is available on Amazon to live-stream.