Matilda (film)

Matilda (film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Danny DeVito
Produced by Danny DeVito
Michael Shamberg
Stacey Sher
Liccy Dahl
Written by Nicholas Kazan
Robin Swicord
Based on Matilda by Roald Dahl
Narrated by Danny DeVito
Starring Mara Wilson
Danny DeVito
Rhea Perlman
Embeth Davidtz
Pam Ferris
Music by David Newman
Cinematography Stefan Czapsky
Editing by Brent White
Studio Jersey Films
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date(s) July 28, 1996 (1996-07-28)
August 2, 1996 (1996-08-02) (United States)
Running time 95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $36 million
Box office $33,459,416 (USA)[1]

Matilda is a 1996 fantasy film directed by Danny DeVito, based on the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. The film was released by TriStar Pictures.



Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson) is an extremely gifted young girl; however, her gifts go unappreciated by her uncaring, unpleasant family. After her father, crooked car dealer Harry Wormwood (Danny DeVito), refuses to buy her a book, among other things, she takes matters into her own hands and begins to visit the library. After two years, she has read every book in the library and, as a result, has become extremely knowledgeable for a girl her age about a variety of subjects.

Eventually, after constant pleas by Matilda, her parents agree to send her to school. Matilda is enrolled at Crunchem Hall Elementary School, where children are routinely terrorized by the oppressive and cruel principal, Agatha Trunchbull (Pam Ferris). However, Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey (Embeth Davidtz), is, by contrast, kind and caring, and she quickly recognizes Matilda's intellectual gifts. Matilda develops a warm friendship with Miss Honey, who is revealed to be Miss Trunchbull's niece. Miss Trunchbull lives in Miss Honey's childhood home, after moving in there when Miss Honey's father died (strongly implied to have been murdered by Miss Trunchbull).

Constantly terrorized and unappreciated by almost everyone in her life, Matilda begins to develop powerful telekinetic abilities as a result of her unused brain ability. She uses these powers to attempt to retrieve Miss Honey's childhood treasures from her house, but accidentally leaves her red hair ribbon behind, giving Miss Trunchbull a clue as to the intruder's identity. The next day, Miss Trunchbull confronts the entire class, but Matilda uses her powers to write a message on the chalkboard, pretending to be Miss Honey's father, demanding that Miss Trunchbull move out of Miss Honey's house or he will "get [Miss Trunchbull] like [she] got [him]". She then humiliates Miss Trunchbull, causing the children, no longer scared of her, to run her out of town. Miss Trunchbull quickly drives away, never heard from again. Miss Honey, made new principal of the school, then moves back to her father's house, where Matilda is a frequent guest.

Some time later, Matilda's father becomes wanted by the police because of his illegal dealings, and the family decide to flee to Guam. When Matilda protests, Matilda's parents agree to have Matilda adopted by Miss Honey. Matilda's mother says goodbye to her daughter, explaining "You're the only daughter I've ever had — but I never understood you, not one little bit."

Matilda and Miss Honey leave together into the sunset, leaving behind all of their earthly worries, implying that they have died and gone to heaven.


Differences from the novel

The film is a modernized and Americanized version of Roald Dahl's novel. Various plot points are shortened or removed, while new details and action sequences are added.

  • There are some changes in characters' motivations, for example, in the novel, Matilda's pranks against her father are purely done as acts of revenge. However, in the film, she gets the idea that when a person is bad, that person has to be taught a lesson, and interprets this as justification for punishing her parents. In the novel, Matilda plays three tricks on her parents, such as mixing her mother's hair bleach with her father's hair dye, hiding a parrot in the chimney tricking the family into thinking there is a ghost in the house, and lining her father's hat with extra-strength glue. In the film, she only plays two tricks, the hair dye (With Matilda replacing it with Hydrogen peroxide), and the glue-in-the-hat tricks, with both tricks being done on the same day.
  • In the novel, Matilda's father destroys the library book The Red Pony by John Steinbeck out of pure malice and that he thinks American authors are morally bankrupt, while in the film, the book he destroys is Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, and his reasons for destroying it are that he thinks the book is trash due to the title (possibly due to the film being set in the US).
  • In the novel, Mrs Wormwood is described and illustrated as being tall and podgy, and Mr Wormwood is described and illustrated as being small and wiry. In the film, their body shapes are reversed, but their heights are still the same as in the novel.
  • Smaller changes are those of ages, TV programs and the like; Matilda's brother is turned from an ordinary boy into a bullying child, and her mother shows some humanity by giving her daughter away because she is better suited to a life with Miss Honey, while in the novel, both parents drop their daughter without a second thought.
  • Matilda's mother is named "Zinnia" in the film, as she has no name in the novel. Also, Amanda Thripp is ten years old in the novel, but is Matilda's age and in Miss Honey's class in the film. In addition to this, there is no Nigel, Rupert, Eric or Wilfred in the film. However there is a scene in which Miss Trunchbull holds a boy upside down by his ankle as she does with Wilfred in the novel. This boy also appears to have long hair as Rupert does in the novel. Miss Trunchbull also drops the boy on the floor like she does with Rupert in the novel.
  • In the film, it is revealed that Miss Trunchbull is superstitious, but this is not mentioned in the novel.
  • At the end of the film, Miss Honey is made the principal of the school after Miss Trunchbull vanishes; in the novel, however, the job goes to Mr. Trilby, the sympathetic Deputy Head, who has a minor role in the novel and does not appear in the film at all.
  • In the film, when Mr. Wormwood sells Miss Trunchbull a car, it shows them talking. In the novel, it does not. Also, in the novel, when Miss Trunchbull says she is glad she was never a child, she says it during Miss Honey's class. In the film, she says it when Mr. Wormwood sells her the car. In the film, the car Harry Wormwood sold to Miss Trunchbull was a barely functional red and black 1971 Buick Electra 225 sedan. In the novel, Miss Trunchbull jokes to Miss Honey that Harry Wormwood sold her a car that was almost new, and previously owned by a woman who drove the car once a year and had 10,000 miles (in actuality, it was doctored by Mr. Wormwood using a drill).
  • In the film, Matilda's psychokinesis is treated more as a conventional superpower and less as a miracle. Also, she only uses her telekinetic powers after remembering all the mean things her family and Miss Trunchbull have said to her or about her. In the novel, Matilda rigorously practises her psychokinetic powers, which leaves her mentally drained. In the novel, Matilda loses her psychokinetic abilities after the incident with Miss Trunchbull. In the film, Matilda still has her powers in the end, but almost never uses them. The final confrontation with Miss Trunchbull is turned into a match of physical force versus mental powers. In contrast, characters in the novel have a sense of awe at supernatural forces whereas in the film, they are unaffected by these. In the novel, when Matilda attempts to show Miss Honey her powers, she does it sitting at her desk. Then she knocks over the glass with ease, without telling the glass to tip. In the film, she fails to lift the glass of water, however she manages to lift the pitcher of water later in the film to show Miss Honey her powers. In the film she practices her powers by moving every loose object around the house, such as playing cards and poker chips, however in the novel she steals one of her father's cigars and practices her powers with it alone.
  • Miss Honey's story about her childhood remains the same. However, the nickname her father used in the novel is "Jenny", while in the film, it is said he called her "bumblebee". In the film, her father has chocolates which he shared with Miss Honey as a girl, and Miss Honey had a doll which she called "Liccy Doll", likely a reference to author Dahl's daughter, Liccy, a co-producer of the film. She has none of these items in the novel. In the film, they visit the Trunchbull's house while she is temporarily gone. In the novel, they never visited Miss Trunchbull's house.
  • Hortensia has a boil on her nose and is eating potato chips in the novel. She does not have or do either in the film. She is also revealed to have done bad deeds to Miss Trunchbull in the novel. She never does this in the film, although she mentions that she has been put in the chokey twice. When she meets Matilda and Lavender in the novel, it is at a time when Matilda has settled in at school. In the film, she meets them when Matilda walks around the playground. In the novel, Hortensia repeatedly insults Matilda and Lavender and is a bully, while she is friendly and protective over them in the film.
  • Lavender catches the newt all by herself in the novel; she was with Matilda, Bruce and Hortensia in the film when it was caught, and mistook it for a frog. When Miss Trunchbull throws the newt out to the class, it falls on a light, then a boy catches it. In the novel, the newt landed right next to Lavender's desk, where she put it in her pencil case.
  • In the novel, when Miss Honey asks the class if they know their multiplication tables, Matilda is the only one to raise her hand. In the film, the whole class knows their multiplication tables, Matilda's special ability is discovered when Miss Honey jokes that they could soon solve 13x379, which Matilda solves immediately.
  • There is a large food fight between the school children and the Trunchbull near the end of the film, while there is no food fight in the novel. Miss Trunchbull faints in one of the classes in the novel, and is carried out of the classroom. In the film, she flees after the food fight.
  • Miss Trunchbull's violence and cruelty towards children is slightly mitigated in the film. When Miss Trunchbull hurls Amanda Thripp into the air, she lands safely gathering flowers (however narrowly missing a spiked fence) in the film. In the novel, she bounces three times but ultimately trots back to the playground. In the film, Matilda is locked in the chokey while the device is only described in the novel. In the scene where Trunchbull throws the boy out of the window, he was eating two M&M's during a literature class. In the novel, he was eating Liquorice Allsorts during a Bible study class. In another scene, after Bruce Bogtrotter successfully eats an entire chocolate cake without throwing up, Miss Trunchbull then demands that everyone stay for five extra hours after school and copy from the dictionary as punishment, while in the novel, she tells them furiously to leave the assembly room.
  • The sub-plot about Mr. Wormwood's shady deals landing him in trouble with the police is hardly mentioned at all in the novel, but in the film, this plot thread is expanded and built upon; Matilda notices the two FBI agents spying on them and repeatedly tries to tell her family without any of them believing her that they are (reiterating that no-one takes any notice of her despite her trying to help them) cops, with her parents insisting that they are speed boat salesmen. She even comes into direct confrontation with the two agents on one occasion, when they are searching the family garage for stolen car parts. She confronts them for searching without a warrant. When they offer her a chance to co-operate with them against her father, she takes the handbrake off their car, causing it to roll off, and the FBI agents to end their search prematurely. When the Wormwoods are found out to have used car parts, the locations they went to were different in both the novel and the film: it was Spain in the novel and Guam in the film.
  • In the novel, Matilda ran to her parents' house to find out they were moving. In the film, the family dropped by Miss Honey's house and told Matilda that they were leaving.
  • In the novel, the Wormwoods' car as seen at the very end was a black Mercedes-Benz saloon. In the film, the Wormwoods' cars were a red Chrysler LeBaron convertible and a faded green Ford LTD station wagon, the latter being the getaway vehicle.
  • In the novel, Mrs. Wormwood simply asks her husband for permission to allow Matilda to live with Miss Honey, while in the film, Matilda's parents need to sign official legal adoption forms, which were Xeroxed from a book. At the end of the novel, Michael is the only family member to say goodbye to Matilda when the family flees the country, but in the film, Matilda's mother is the one who says goodbye.
  • In the film, Matilda refers to Charles Dickens mistakenly as "Dahl's Chickens." This spoonerism comes not from the Matilda novel but from another Roald Dahl novel, The BFG.


  • YoungStar Awards
    • Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Comedy Film — Mara Wilson
  • Oulu International Children's Film Festival Starboy Award
  • Young Artist Award
    • Best Performance in a Feature Film — Leading Young Actress (Mara Wilson)
    • Best Performance in a Feature Film — Supporting Young Actress (Kira Spencer Hesser)


Two songs are featured in the film. One of them, "Send Me on My Way" by Rusted Root, is played twice: when the four-year-old Matilda is left alone at her house, making pancakes, and at the end of the film, set to a montage of Matilda and Miss Honey playing at Miss Trunchbull's former house. The other song us Thurston Harris's "Little Bitty Pretty One", played when Matilda first discovers her psychokinetic powers.

The film's score was composed by David Newman.


Matilda received critical acclaim at the time of its release. On Rotten Tomatoes it holds a "fresh" rating of 90%. [2] The film fared moderately at the box office, earning $33 million in contrast to its $36 million budget[3]


External links

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