While Danny DeVito’s film Matilda is a modern classic, you’d hope this release based on the musical adaptation would be far enough away in style to avoid any direct companion. Unfortunately, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical fails to be satisfactorily distinct – it’s instead a somewhat gritty take on the beloved tale, despite the long-running success of the musical it’s based on.
Most know the plot: Matilda Wormwood (Alisha Weir) is the genius child of two indifferent parents (Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough) who finds herself sent to a school run by malicious former Olympian headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (Emma Thompson) .
But this cinematic outing is very much like a cartoonish, simplistic vision of Matilda finding acceptance and love for her intelligence (and practical telekinesis) with the help of her devoted schoolteacher Miss Honey, portrayed here by a luminous Lashana Lynch. Unfortunately, the film lacks the soulful nuance and touching sweetness of Mara Wilson’s iteration.
Graham and Riseborough, usually excellent, are poorly served in roles written without nuance (unlike DeVito’s film), Thompson also stars as Trunchbull and again, it’s impossible to positively compare his turn to the naturalism of the iteration brutal Pam Ferris that seemed so weird. but so real at the same time. (Plus, there’s still talk to be had about actors wearing prosthetics to take on the roles of larger characters – often when portrayed as “monstrous” or villainous.)
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Meanwhile, comedian/songwriter Tim Minchin’s songs themselves are enjoying mixed success. Some of the most important numbers for children are catchy enough to make an impression, but unfortunately the ballads – often performed by Lynch’s Miss Honey – struggle to hit the right emotional notes. The musical sets work best in the location of the school and when the film ventures into a more exciting visual flare.
In general, the production design can look a bit amateurish despite the caliber of talent involved and the whole affair comes across as incredibly sterile, even if it visually seems closer to the work of classic Roald Dahl illustrator Quentin Blake than the previous screen version.
A chord of success, however, comes from the way the film conveys its heroine’s boundless and colorful imagination, often through storytelling with mobile librarian Mrs. Phelps (a charming Sindhu Vee), a strand also has the more success trying to land humor for the whole family.
Otherwise, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical will offer charm and laughs to young children, but the music and writing fail to reach a wider audience, inevitably inviting underwhelming comparisons to DeVito’s artfully rendered adaptation.
Matilda the Musical by Roald Dahl hits UK cinemas on November 25, 2022, while it will be released on Netflix outside the UK on December 5, 2022.
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