Where I Watched It: Netflix
English Audio Description Provided By International Digital Center
Written By: Betty Capone
My fondness for Roald Dahl material is fuzzy for me. I can’t actually remember reading any of his works as a child, though I can’t actually remember reading much of the stufff I read in Elementary school. It’s like all those books just flew out the window. I know I read everything from Beverly Cleary to Goosebumps, and somewhere in there I’m sure was at least a Roald Dahl book. Was it Matilda? Perhaps.
But at the cinema, his work has allowed for Charlie to visit a Chocolate Factory more than once, brought us Anjelica Huston and her terrifying Witches (we won’t talk about that remake), and convinced us of the majestic possibilities of a Giant peach. Somewhere in there, Mara Wilson got to play Matilda, and for a lot of kids from the 90’s, that film is a cornerstone of their growing up.
I don’t know if any of the musical adaptations of Dahl’s work, from Charlie, to james, and Matilda, have the same impact. but, i do know that if you haven’t come in contact with the music of Matilda The musical until now, this film will charm your socks right off. For me, getting to hear a cast that didn’t sound auto tuned, just belting their hearts out to my favorite songs like Revolting Children, When I Grow up, and My House, almost made up for all the poor decisions of musical adaptations past.
It seems like for every Tick Tick boom that gets it right, we get a Dear Evan Hansen that decides to mess with the formula like it knows better. Suddenly, you have a girl with a stepfather instead of a father, missing songs, and new ones written for the movie that I promise you no one reading this can name off the top of their heads. Matilda navigates the whole “what to cut” thing just perfectly, making you wonder what was actually cut. The characters don’t suffer, like Claudia does in in the Heights, where their entire storyline and importance is removed, it all is intact. It’s all there. Even if it’s not.
Part of this isn’t just the great direction, but it’s also perfect casting. Alicia Weir as Matilda is so strong for such a small girl, I really think she did Mara Wilson proud. Somehow, she seems even younger, when I know she probably is not. I’m just now older. And casting her opposite Emma Thompson, who was fully ready to commit to the terrifying killer of anything fun, Mrs TrenchBull, was a lark in casting. We’ve known Thompson to be OK with using prosthetics to advance a character in a movie like Nanny McPhee, but she was likable there. Hell, she’s so damn lovable, I keep praying for a surprise nomination for her for Good Luck To You leo Grande. There’s something about Emma Thompson we can all root for. So, to take her and insert her here, it’s a risk, but it paid dividends.
The last reason this film works so well is Lashana Lynch, who already has The Woman King behind her this year, and apparently wants to close it off by being the warmest and nicest Miss Honey we’ve ever seen. She’s such a delight, and her voice on My House was such a treat.
We do have that age old problem with audio description in a musical, and for my dollar, Betty Capone gave me what i want. It’s not what everyone wants, as I frequently see blind and visually impaired people chiming in on social media about how they don’t care as much for the music, and they want to know more about the choreography. Their slant is that they’ve heard the songs already… from the stage show. My counter to that is, those were different actors, in a different production, with different values. I love musicals because the songs within them help tell the story, and running audio description through them would be like talking over dialogue. When Matilda is singing Quiet, she’s expressing an internal monologue of sorts for the audience. To just overwrite that is insane. But, I do mention that Betty Capone’s script here does avoid talking during the music, which will mean a lot less description of choreography. I do think her script does an excellent job of capturing all the elements, from costuming to set design, and when possible, choreography. But, for some, it will let them down. i hope those are always the minority.
This is just a film that hit all the marks for me. It’s the best musical of this year, and I think if I had my hopes work out, that honor would have gone to 13 The Musical, as i like that show better overall as a stage production. But, the director of that film had no idea what made the musical work, and we got some bastardized half-adaptation like we did for Hansen and in The Heights.
Matilda is great to watch with the whole family, and you’ll be hard pressed to not smile during this absolute delight of a film. I’m so happy this worked out.
Final Grade: A