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Sony Pictures // PG // December 3, 2013
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted December 3, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Matilda is something truly special. It's a film based upon the beloved novel by children's author Roald Dahl, and it was adapted by Danny DeVito as director. The story blends the realms of a fantasy and comedic story while focusing on a child who is special but under-appreciated by her family. It's a story of a misunderstood girl discovering herself and looking for love that seems to be missing from her home, where her parents and brother don't understand her much at all. Matilda (Mara Wilson) loves reading books and using her brain but her parents are so different from her. Her father Mr. Wormwood (Danny DeVito) is mainly concerned with TV watching and selling dysfunctional cars for massive mark-ups at his shop and his mother Mrs. Wormwood (Rhea Perlman, Danny DeVito's real-life wife) is more concerned with her looks and enjoying what she considers to be a nice lifestyle. Matilda also has a bratty brother who bullies or ignores her and doesn't seem to show her any real attention. In essence, one might say Matilda become the odd-duckling of the family: distinctive but not properly recognized.

Over the course of the story, the viewer sees the adventurous side of Matilda as she falls in love with books from the library and eventually begins school. Yet she winds up at a school with the worst principal around, the viciously mean and hot-tempered Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) who is so often prone to picking up children, whirling them around, and throwing them out windows. The principal is also known for embarrassing the children and for the harshness of her punishments against the children in general.

This run-down school is mostly a harsh, cold, and unwelcoming place - yet the children are nice and Matilda makes several friends. She also meets a nice teacher, Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz), who grows to care for Matilda. As the storyline unfolds, Matilda ends up developing telekinetic powers that she uses to help stop the bullying of the mean principal Trunchbull, who she aims to drive away from the school using them. Will her unique ability help to save the school and will Matilda find the understanding and love she longs for with the help of Miss Honey? And can Truchbull be stopped?

The novel written by Roald Dahl was one of my favorite books as a child. I really loved this story a great deal. I was fascinated by the fantasy aspect and by the delicate writing by Dahl. Growing up, Dahl was a constant favorite. I especially loved The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The BFG -- and Matilda. These were all special experiences for me. Dahl was absolutely one of several children's authors who helped me to fall in love with reading, which was something enjoyable and mesmerizing to me as a child.

While this adaptation by Danny DeVito takes certain liberties with the source material, I always felt as a child that it was pretty faithful, maintaining the heart and messages of the story about love, acceptance, and being unique. These are all good messages for kids to receive and it's presented in an often silly, over-the-top, and fantastical way but the core ideas are still all contained in a wonderful way.

Adapted for the screen by screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, the story takes on a great life of its own in the 1996 film version, as so wonderfully realized by DeVito. It became something immensely special to me. This is one of the best children's films of the 1990's decade and the film should no doubt still find itself enchanting audiences of all ages, and most especially children who will enjoy this story immensely.

The performances were quite remarkable and it's amazing how fluid the child actors were, most especially Mara Wilson as Matilda. The characters that the filmmaking paints are impressive to recognize and the entire cast came together to form a cohesive whole for the story. DeVito adds delicate touches of both fantasy and sentimentalism with over-the-top elements of comedy that blend together uniquely and effectively. The music score by composer David Newman adds a distinctive aura of magic to the proceedings and helps the foundation of the film, which is still magical, enchanting, and a must-see children's film for those seeking to revisit or to experience for the first time.

The Blu-ray:


Matilda arrives on Blu-ray with a remarkably impressive 1080p transfer preserving the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film has been remastered and the results are magnificent. This is a truly special presentation of the film. I cannot imagine it looking any better than its release on Blu-ray. With a film-like appearance that is both vivid and smooth without any apparent digital tampering like DNR, edge enchantment, or contrast boosting, this is simply a beautiful image that seems quite modern and so magnificent that you would think the film was recently made. The cinematography was wonderfully realized and this release presents the film with the best quality I have ever seen presented for Matilda.


To my surprise, I went into the experience expecting a rather simplistic surround design and was delighted to discover that Matilda contains a decent 5.1 mix that is brought to life even more by DTS-HD Master Audio. The score and sound effects have decent depth and ambiance. While I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a perfect sound presentation (there are still many moments which are front-heavy), this is a well-done surround sound presentation that has received an impressive and notable boost by the lossless sound contained on the Blu-ray release.



The new extra to arrive on this release has been titled Afternoon Tea: A Very Magical Matilda Reunion. In my estimation, the subtitle of the featurette is accurate. This is a wonderful new exclusive for the Blu-ray release. It features a reunion gathering of almost all of the people involved in making the film as far as the lead actors, producers, designers, and more. The gathering is presented by Danny DeVito, who demonstrates his ongoing passion for the wonderful story of Matilda. This is a feature that fans of the film will love and cherish.


There are also a number of extras from a previous DVD edition appearing here again, including the Matilda's Movie Magic! featurette which is about twenty minutes of making-of material.

A Children's Guide to Good Manners would more appropriately be titled a guide to bad manners as it's basically just a five-minute piece highlighting some of the over-the-top moments from the film.

Escape to the Library is a piece that has DeVito talking a bit about the origin of the film before the featurette basically turns into a PSA to children about going to the library to read books.

My Movie About Making Matilda (by Mara Wilson) is a fascinating 6 minute long featurette, which showcases some behind-the-scenes footage filmed by the star of the film as they were making Matilda. It has more interesting moments and footage than many professionally done behind the scenes features and covers a decent amount of ground for such a short piece done by Wilson as a child. I was certainly impressed and I highly recommend this supplement.

Final Thoughts:

Revisiting this film with this well-done Blu-ray release is quite remarkable: the presentation does not disappoint and the film remains one that should still enchant children. DeVito did a great job making this adaptation as director: Matilda is the best thing he has directed. The heart and soul in this film is sweet and has some good messages for kids (minus all the over-the-top bits). A young audience of viewers should still be able to discover and appreciate Matilda. At this stage, almost twenty years following its 1996 release, Matilda is a definite children's classic.

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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