I think what I like most about the story is the symbolism of a girl in a big world, a big world full of ill tempered adults and patriarchs. It shows the point of view of a child (let's face it, many of Dahl's tales were told from a child's perspective) and how she gets through certain obstacles such as nasty parents and a villainous school principal. It also shows how a child relates to other children and how one small child can harness the power of a god, often tricking people and scaring them out of their skins. But those of you who read the book or seen the movie know that Matilda doesn't need to use her power all the time. She's a very smart little girl with a clever mind and quick thinking. One time, she puts strong glue in her father's hat. When he puts it on, he finds that he can't take it off and Matilda's mother has to cut it off with scissors. One time, she puts a parrot in the chimney to trick her family into thinking there is a ghost in the house. Matilda shows that even when you have great powers, you don't necessarily have to use them all the time for your own pleasure. You can get through some of the problems in your life when you really think things through and stay calm and collective. You don't have to result to scaring people or causing people to literally hurt themselves, you can teach them a lesson in a nonviolent manner.
As I said before, this story is one of the funniest I've ever experienced. Matilda's parents have to be some of the most dim witted and disgruntled souls I've ever seen in literature. The couple is always falling for their daughter's tricks and are driven out of their wits when their daughter does something that displeasures them, especially her father. Portrayed as a skinny man in the book, Mr. Wormwood is a villainous, yet open minded citizen who takes pride in hassling people, selling them lemons and picking on his daughter like she is the bane of his existence. But as I said before, Matilda always has a trick up her sleeve and this trick often sends her father up a wall or two. But you can't help but feel that Mr. Wormwood deserves it at times. He is a cruel, malicious, selfish and extremely ill tempered father who blows things out of proportion. There is a scene in the novel where Matilda is reading The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. Believing that American authors are morally bankrupt, Mr. Wormwood grabs the book from his daughter's hands, ripping it to shreds. Even though there are illustrations by Quentin Blake depicting this scene, you can't help but picture the scene in your head and feel the tension between the characters involved in the scene. It's very intense and a little bit jarring (but made a bit more comical in the movie).
Then there is Ms. Trunchbull, the dictator of the school Matilda attends. Quentin Blake depicts her as a massive hulk of a woman with a threatening grimace and eyes of a demon. Although she is a monstrous entity, she can be quite hilarious as well. One scene of the book depicts her getting a newt (which she thinks is a snake) dumped on her by Matilda, who uses her telepathy. Another scene, she forces a chubby boy, Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an entire chocolate cake (CONSUME THE ENTIRE CONFECTION!) after he sneaks into her lounge and eats hers. Another scene, Matilda uses her powers to make Trunchbull believe that Ms. Honey's father's ghost is haunting her, making her flee from the school in terror. Yes, for a malevolent antagonist, Ms. Trunchbull is quite a laugh in some areas of the book, but she can also be as diabolical as the Wicked Witch of the West. One scene, she picks up a poor, innocent girl and swings her for the simple fact that she is wearing pigtails (YOUR MOMMY IS A TWIT!). Another scene, a student is eating licorice all sorts in a religious class, and Trunchbull throws him out the window. She even has a hole in the wall called the "Chokey" where she puts students who disobey her and she is also known for her use of harsh words and insults towards the students. Ms. Trunchbull is a woman you don't want to tick off, simply put.
I believe that all these things transferred well into the movie adaptation, directed by Danny DeVito and released in 1996. I said before that Dahl would have been happy with Burton's 2005 remake of Charlie and he would have marveled at Selick's James and the Giant Peach, but I'm not so sure he would have been happy with this one. Like they did with the 1971 Willy Wonka, they filmmakers changed Dahl's story drastically for a more cinematic, motion picture experience. Many things have been changed or elaborated on in this film and several elements from Dahl's original story have been altered, making way for entirely new subplots exclusive to the film. For example, Matilda's brother Michael isn't the inattentive youngster he is in the novel and is more of the stereotypical "bullyish" older sibling. Mr. Wormwood was the skinny one in the book, Mrs. Wormwood was the corpulent one. In the movie, it's the complete opposite. Instead of loosing her powers at the end like in the book, Matilda still has her powers but very seldom uses them. The story also takes place in the United Kingdom in the book, while the movie takes place in America. Some things that have been added to the movie is the elaborate chase scene throughout Ms. Trunchbull's home as well as the inclusive of two FBI agents tracking down Mr. Wormwood's criminal acts. One of the agents is played by Paul Reubens, aka Pee Wee Herman (I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I?)
That doesn't mean the movie is terrible. In fact, it's far from it, far far far far from it. This is another favorite of mine and I enjoy watching it every time it's on television. Mara Wilson is spunky and slick as Matilda and very much like her book counterpart, with a few exceptions. In the movie, she is a little bit more defiant and outspoken, while the Matilda in the book was a little more humble and let her facial expressions do the talking. Pam Ferris gives a conniving and vile performance as Trunchbull and I really couldn't picture anyone else in the role. Her stature and overbearing voice makes you cringe and flinch in fear, although just like her book counterpart, she does have a few funny moments. I just love the way she pigs out on chocolate cake and how she displays a very comical sarcasm in some areas of the film. I could see why Alfonso Cuaron chose Pam Ferris to play the sarcastic, outspoken Aunt Marge in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. She also looks very similar to the way she looked in the book, fit with a very autocrat style uniform.
The director of the film, Danny DeVito has two roles in the film, portraying Matilda's verbally abusive father and the narrator. I think it's funny that DeVito portrays the icy, intimidating Harry Wormwood and also plays the calm, collective narrator who speaks throughout most of the film. How fascinating. That's like if The Silence of the Lambs was narrated by Anthony Hopkins, who also plays the insane, flesh craving Hannibal Lector. DeVito's wife, Rhea Perlman portrays Mrs. Wormwood, who often speaks in a high pitched, whiny tone. Embeth Davidtz portrays the kind hearted Ms. Honey, who seems to be very similar to her book counterpart despite not wearing spectacles. Some other familiar faces in the mix are Tracey Walter, John Lovitz, Jean Speegle Howard, and Jimmy Karz, who would later appear in Adam Sandler's The Wedding Singer.
Overall, Matilda is just a fun film to experience and to watch. Like many of the films based on Dahl's stories, they leave you with a sweet, happy feeling within and a tremor of glee. I can't really decide which one I like better, the book or the movie. They are both good in their own right, although the movie has something the book doesn't have and the book has something the movie doesn't have. The film has Little Bitty Pretty One and a fantastic sequence where Matilda levitates every object in the room. The book has an incredible list of the books Matilda read such as Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, The Grapes of Wrath, and Moby Dick. I'm disappointed that she didn't read Swiss Family Robinson.
Well, I hope you guys are enjoying Dahl Week.Tune in next time and we'll conclude this little holiday with a look at many other Dahl tales that deserve a little spotlight.