Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
Matilda directed by Danny DeVito (1996)
I loved Roald Dahl books when I was a kid and read so many of them! This was my first time reading one since I was like 9 years old and it was so fun to bring back those childhood memories.
Matilda is a fantastic one for many reasons. But one of my favorite things about it is the fact that all the main characters are awesome females. Matilda, Miss Honey, Hortencia, and even the villain is Miss Trunchbull. This is a great book for girls and boys alike and I think it is important for all genders to read books with strong female characters when they are kids. I read an article a while back written by a man talking about when he was a boy, he and his classmates had to write about their favorite fictional character. He chose to write about Matilda, and his classmates made fun of him for looking up to a girl, rather than choosing a boy character. This way of thinking, that it isn’t normal for a boy to look up to female role models, just encourages the sexist world we live in where straight men only see women as something to be objectified. If we raise our boys around strong female characters, they will learn to respect women and see them as so much more than just a body.
Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent. Basically, Matilda is a great book about a little girl standing up for herself and her friends.
Dahl passed away in 1990, making this one of the last books he wrote! He is an interesting guy, and Ink to Film recently covered his book James and the Giant Peach and they give a little biography at the start of their episode. You should definitely check it out because they share some interesting facts about him!
He was married to an American actress, Patricia Neal, who I talked about in my episode for Hud book vs movie.
But one thing that is totally random about Dahl, is that in his twenties he got dentures! He decided he was over the hassle of having teeth and went for it! Honestly, seems pretty genius to me. Almost makes me want to do the same, it’s going to happen at some point so why not do it now and enjoy have perfect pearly whites!
This is a faithful adaptation and funny enough, it took me a bit longer to watch the movie, then it had to read the book! Danny DeVito not only plays Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s father, but he also directed the movie! And his wife plays Mrs. Wormwood.
Danny DeVito is such an icon and he is wonderful here. I can’t talk about DeVito without mentioning It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is the longest running comedy ever! He joined the show in season 2 and his character in that isn’t too far off from the character he plays here in Matilda lol.
Matilda’s revenge on her dad
In the movie, one of the things that makes Matilda want to punish her parents, is when her dad won’t let her go to school. She switches his hair gel for bleach hair dye and glues the inside of his hat so he can’t take it off. He later decides to let her go to school when Miss Trunchbull buys a car from him and he can see that she hates children and therefore thinks it will be the perfect school for Matilda.
In the book, Matilda gets revenge on her dad the same way, however it wasn’t about school. They were fine letting her go to school, but as seen in the movie, he gets mad at her when she knows the answer to his profit calculation, he was asking the brother to do. He also tore up the book she was reading. This happens in the movie as well, but in the movie, it is later that same evening that she had done those other “pranks” on him. So, in the movie it all happens in one day rather than being spread out.
In the movie, the first time she uses her powers is after the day’s events with her dad bleaching his hair and all that, he is upset and doesn’t like that Matilda is reading while the others are watching tv. He forces her to look at the screen, and she gets so upset she causes the tv to explode.
In the book, she doesn’t start using her powers until halfway, and it is when she is in school when Miss Trunchbull is getting mad at her about the newt in the water. After class in book and movie, Matilda tells Miss Honey that she caused the cup to tip over using her mind. Miss Honey is skeptical, and in the book, she is able to prove it to her by knocking the glass down for Miss Honey. In the movie, she tries to show Miss Honey but is unable to. She realizes she can only do it when she is angry and asks her dad to yell at her when she is at home, so she can test her powers.
In the book she also loses her powers by the end and Miss Honey says she must have accessed those powers because her brain wasn’t being challenged enough. By the end of the book, she is in the proper grade level and no longer has this unused brainpower. Whereas, in the movie, we see her still using her powers.
In book and movie, Matilda goes to Miss Honey’s home and in the book her home is quaint, but very small with no furniture and no running water. She also doesn’t have much to eat. This is when Matilda learns that Miss Trunchbull is Miss Honey’s aunt and she believes Trunchbull killed her father, so Trunchbull could get his nice home. She also requires that a large portion of Miss Honey’s check be given to her, hence why Miss Honey is so poor.
In the movie this is all revealed, however Miss Honey’s home looks a bit more charming in the movie and she doesn’t seem to be quite as destitute. In the movie, they also go hide in the lawn of Trunchbull’s house (the house that should belong to Miss Honey) and when Trunchbull drives off, Matilda convinces Miss Honey they should sneak in so Miss Honey can get some of her things back. While they are in the house, Miss Trunchbull of course returns and there is a game of cat and mouse as the attempt and eventually succeed, at escaping without Trunchbull knowing who was in their house.
Book Revenge on Trunchbull
In the book, she has the experience at school where she unintentionally knocks over the cup, then she goes to Miss Honey’s house and hears her story. Then before heading home, she asks Miss Honey what her father’s name was and what he would call Miss Trunchbull.
She then goes home and practices moving and lifting a cigar.
Then, I guess he has a week to practice, and we see that Miss Trunchbull is teaching the class again and during class Matilda is able to telekinetically pick up the chalk and writes a message on the chalkboard pretending to be Miss Honey’s dad telling her to give Miss Honey her home and money.
This freaks out Miss Trunchbull and she is never heard from again.
Movie Revenge on Trunchbull
In the movie, this is much more elaborate. We see Matilda practicing her skills and is able to move all sorts of things at the same time. Then she goes to Trunchbull’s house and makes her think the ghost of Miss Honey’s dad is haunting her. This freaks her out, but she finds Matilda’s ribbon and knows Matilda is behind it all. (Wouldn’t she still be freaked out though?? Like even if Matilda had been there, Miss Trunchbull doesn’t know she can move stuff, so it still wouldn’t explain everything that happened in her home.)
She goes to school the next day and is very angry and confronts Matilda. Matilda then has shutters closing, and then has the chalk write on the board the same message from the book. This isn’t enough though, and she continues to thwart Trunchbull’s efforts to terrorize the kids in class. (Resulting in two particularly funny scenes-she throws a kid out the window, but Matilda has him fly around outside before flying back in through the window. Then she charges Lavender but Matilda raises her up, and Lavender holds onto a bar. Matilda later tells Lavender to let go, and when she does, Matilda helps her gracefully land on the ground to which Lavender says, “I didn’t know I could do that”. The girl who plays Lavender by the way is so cute! Such an adorable actress.)
By the end, Miss Trunchbull is pelted with food from lunchboxes, and then as she runs into the hall, kids throw food and yell at her and she is chased out of the school and is never heard from again.
Miss Honey and Matilda
In the end, Miss Honey gets her home back, and in the movie is made principal. She then adopts Matilda because the Wormwoods have to leave for legal reasons but Matilda wants to stay. This scene is pretty heartless on her parents end in the book. In the movie, when Matilda says she wants to be adopted by Miss Honey, her mom says how she has never been able to understand Matilda. And then agrees to sign the papers.
I love that in book and movie, Miss Honey has no love interest and we see just the two of them together. In most cases, I would think a kids movie, especially an older one, would feel the need to show Matilda going to a conventional family with a mom and a dad. But I like that we see it being just Miss Honey raising Matilda and the sweet bond they have is enough.
In the book and movie, we see how Matilda falls in love with reading at a very young age. The book really dwells on the power of reading and I will read a section from this part.
“It was pleasant to take a hot drink up to her room and have it beside her as she sat in her silent room reading in the empty house in the afternoons. The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”
As someone who loves to read and who was a child who loved to escape into the world of books, I could relate to these scenes and loved it.
Book vs Movie
This was a great adaptation and is wonderfully cast. I will say though, Miss Trunchbull in the movie was just too gross for me. I get that was the point, close ups of her mouth as she eats, and just her overall look was exaggerated and supposed to be gross but it was just too much for me. It ruined the viewing experience for me at times. I also feel I need to stay true to what Matilda would want and pick the book over the movie. In the movie, her dad doesn’t get why she wants a book and says, why spend all the time reading a book, when you can get it quicker through a tv. While this isn’t the case with Matilda, since the book is so short, I still want to vote in support of books so I will say the book wins here!