Matilda is a 1996 American fantasy comedy children's film directed, narrated, and starring Danny DeVito. The screenplay by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord is based on Roald Dahl's novel of the same name. The film was released by TriStar Pictures on August 2, 1996 and stars Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, Pam Ferris, and Mara Wilson.
Matilda Wormwood is an intelligent girl with a bright personality, but her parents, Harry and Zinnia, neglect and mistreat her. When Matilda reaches four, she discovers the local library and walks there every day to read while her parents are at work and her older brother, Michael, is at school.
By age six-and-a-half, Matilda begins to lose patience with her parents. In retaliation for Harry's teasing, she mixes his hair tonic with Zinnia's hair dye. Harry takes his family to his workshop, where he reveals that the cars he sells are faulty. Matilda accuses him of being dishonest and he belittles her, so she retaliates by putting super-glue in his hat, forcing Zinnia to cut it off. Harry belittles Matilda for reading while her family is watching television. When Harry tries to force her to watch with them, Matilda grows increasingly angry and the television suddenly explodes.
Agatha Trunchbull is the headmistress of a run-down school, Crunchem Hall. Harry enrols Matilda in the school, where she befriends several children and learns of Miss Trunchbull's nature and her harsh punishments of the students. Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, is a kind woman who adores her pupils and takes an immediate liking to Matilda. Miss Honey speaks with Trunchbull and requests that Matilda be moved up to a higher class. Miss Honey pays Matilda's parents a visit and requests that they pay more attention to their daughter, but they refuse to listen. Meanwhile, Matilda discovers that her family is under FBI surveillance because of her father's shady dealings, but her parents refuse to believe her.
Sometime later, Trunchbull goes to Miss Honey's class for a weekly "check-up" and starts to belittle the students. As a prank, a student places a newt in Trunchbull's water jug to frighten her. Trunchbull accuses Matilda, whose anger at the injustice leads to her telekinetically tipping the glass over, splashing water on Trunchbull. Miss Honey invites Matilda to her house for tea.
On the way, they pass Trunchbull's house, and Miss Honey reveals her secret: when she was two years old, her mother died, so her father invited his wife's stepsister, Trunchbull, to live with them and look after Miss Honey while he was at work. However, Trunchbull mistreated and abused her niece at every opportunity. When Miss Honey was five, her father died of an apparent suicide and left all of his assets to Trunchbull. Eventually, Miss Honey moved out of her aunt's house into a small cottage. Matilda and Miss Honey briefly sneak into Trunchbull's house while she is out, but her unexpected return leads to a cat-and-mouse chase with Matilda and Miss Honey only barely escaping.
When Matilda's telekinetic powers manifest again during an argument, she trains herself to use her ability at her own will. Matilda returns to Trunchbull's house, wreaking havoc in an attempt to scare Trunchbull away. Trunchbull almost flees, but she finds Matilda's ribbon and realizes that she was there. The next day, Trunchbull visits Miss Honey's class again to get Matilda to admit her guilt. Matilda uses her powers to write a message on the blackboard, posing as the ghost of Miss Honey's father and accusing Trunchbull of murdering him. Trunchbull attacks the students, but Matilda keeps them out of harm's way with her powers and the students force Trunchbull out of the school by pelting her with food and garbage. Miss Honey's father's true will is discovered by the police, which named Miss Honey as the sole beneficiary, so she moves back into her home, and Matilda is a frequent visitor.
The FBI finally uncovers enough evidence to prosecute Harry, and he and his wife and son prepare to flee. They stop by Miss Honey's house to pick up Matilda, but she refuses to go with them. Harry asks his wife what she thinks about that, and Zinnia finally confesses that Matilda is the only daughter she ever had, and she never understood her - not one little bit. So they decide to let Miss Honey adopt her (which Miss Honey is glad to do, as she views Matilda as the daughter she'd always wanted). The Wormwoods escape, while Matilda lives a happy life with Miss Honey.
- Mara Wilson as Matilda Wormwood
- Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood Matilda's step-father who likes to sell lemon cars and the secondary antagonist.
- Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood Matilda's step-mother and the tertiary antagonist.
- Embeth Davidtz as Miss Jennifer Honey
- Pam Ferris as Agatha Trunchbull a mean spirited principal and the main antagonist.
- Brian Levinson as Michael Wormwood Matilda's step-brother who likes to torment her and the major antagonist.
- Nicholas Cox as Michael - 6 years
- Paul Reubens as FBI Agent Bob
- Tracy Walter as FBI Agent Bill
- Kiami Davael as Lavender
- Jacqueline Steiger as Amanda Thripp
- Kira Spencer as Hortensia
- Jimmy Karz as Bruce Bogtrotter
- Jean Speegle Howard as Mrs. Phelps
- Marion Dugan as Cookie
- Emily Eby as Maggie
- Craig Lamar Taylor as Child in Classroom
- Jon Lovitz as Mickey on The Million Dollar Sticky
Awards and nominationsEdit
- YoungStar Award
- Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Comedy Film - Mara Wilson
- Cinekid Lion Audience Award
- Best Director - Danny DeVito
- Oulu International Children's Film Festival Starboy Award
- Best Director - Danny DeVito
- Satellite Awards
- Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical (Danny DeVito)
- Young Artist Award
The film was submitted for an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, but wasn't nominated.
Three songs are featured in the movie. 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 is Thruston Harris's "Little Bitty Pretty One", played when Matilda is learning to control her psychokinetic powers.
The film's original score was composed by David Newman.
Matilda recieved critical acclaim at the time of its release. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a "fresh" rating of 90%. In the United States, the film earned $33 million in contrast to its $36 million budget. It fared better during its worldwide release and ended up earning back nearly double its original budget as well as on home video and television.
- Sadly, Mara Wilson's mother, Suzie Shapiro Wilson died of breast cancer during filming. Mara pressed on bravely, impressing her adult co-stars. In spite of this, the film was dedicated to her, as seen in the end credits.
- In the making of segment on the DVD, Danny DeVito reveals that for the chalk to write by itself, they wrote the letters backwards on the opposite side of the chalkboard, then put a magnet on the chalk. They then had someone stand behind the chalkboard and write the words backwards with a device that attracted magnets.
- Pam Ferris would often stay in character when the director called cut in an attempt to actually scare the children on set so that their fear would be genuine when the camera was rolling.
- The picture of Miss Honey's father, Magnus, is actually a portrait of Roald Dahl, the author of the book "Matilda," upon which the film is based.
- As a child, Miss Honey had a doll named Liccy Doll. One of the producers of the film is author Roald Dahl's widow, Liccy Dahl.
- Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman were married in real life when the movie is being made.
- Matilda, when describing her love of Charles Dickins to Miss Honey, accidentally mispronounces his name as "Darles Chickens." This is a nod to another novel by Roald Dahl, "The BFG," in which the title character mispronounces Charles Dickins' name.
- Wormwood, the family name, is also a poisonous plant or "something bitter, grievous, or extremely unpleasant." Wormwood is also the name of the apprentice devil in C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters".
- Mariska Hargitay turned down the role of Miss Honey.
- The credits on the DVD version lists the newt as played by Mr. Speaker, Sir Isaac, and Wayne. This is a reference to Newt Gingrich, the speaker of the US House of Representatives; Sir Isaac Newton, English physicist; and Wayne Newton, the singer.
- One of the lunchboxes reads "Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey", a reference to Danny DeVito's hometown. "Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey" is also the name of Bruce Springsteen's first album.
- Kylie Tyndall and Keaton Tyndall were originally cast as Young Matilda, but had to be replaced last minute due to high fevers and the flu.
- The car Harry sells to the Trunchbull is a 1970 Buick Electra 225 sedan.
- Richard Donner was considered to direct the film.
- The film features no less than three actors from Tim Burton's Batman films: Danny DeVito, who directs and co-stars, played the Penguin, also known as Oswald Copperpot, in Batman Returns. Paul Reubens, who plays one of the FBI agents hunting Harry Wormwood, also appears in Batman Returns as the Penguin's father. Tracy Walter who plays the other FBI agent, played Bob the Goon in the original Batman.
- Neat the end of the film, Matilda tells Miss Honey about the speed of a mouse's beating heart. This is a subtle reference to another book by Roald Dahl, The Witches, in which the protagonist and his grandmother have the same discussion.
- It is stated that Miss Trunchbull competed in the Olympics in shot put, javelin, and hammer throw. According to the jersey those were the 1972 Olympics. The hammer throw wasn't added as an Olympic event for women until the year 2000.
- When the black cat is stalking Miss Trunchbull we hear a meowing sound, but the cat isn't opening it's mouth.
- When Matilda grabs the floating tape from the cop's open recorder, the sound of her hand touching the tape and the action of her actually grasping it do not match.
- When Amanda is thrown over the fence, she slides along the ground then stands up and shakes herself but the sound comes seconds later.
- In the assembly hall where Bruce Bogtrotter is walking up to the front of the room Lavender turns to Matilda to say "He lives on my block," Matilda says something in return but there is no sound.
- We see the chandelier in the foyer of Miss Trunchbull's house fall to the floor in one shot while Miss Trunchbull is chasing our two heroes, but minutes later, it's hung up again.
- The position of the lid on the chocolate box changes between shots (after it is replaced in a hurry as Trunchbull enters the house).
- When Mr. Wormwood is telling the kids to turn the miles back on the car he tells them to look at the speedometer. The odometer tracks the miles not the speedometer.
- The icing on Matilda's cake at "The Ritz" jumps about between shots.
- The Trunchbull's cake has two layers in some shots and three layers in others.
- When Matilda arrives at school for the first time, the Trunchbull is coming out of the door. The shadows of the kids walking back emphasizes their fear. In the next shot, the Trunchbull's feet and some kids are shown, thus the ground is fully shadowed.
- After cutting Harry's hat off, Zinnia sits down to watch TV and puts her sunglasses on twice.
- When Zinnia is trying to cut the hat off Harry's head, she walks around to cut the hat from behind Harry and places her hand on it, which makes the hat move while it is "still glued on".
- When Harry is gluing the bumper back on the car, in the first shot he smears the glue on. But in the next glue is perfectly even.
- When Matilda cooks the pancakes, they look burnt. As they lay on the plates (after being cooked), they look fine and light-coloured.
- The position of Miss Honey's hair when she enters Miss Trunchbull's office, suggesting that Matilda takes older or advanced classes change between shots.
- On Matilda's first day of school, in the car and walking through the gates, she is holding a book. When Matilda gets into the playground she is no longer holding it.
- The shadows of the children in the school yard changes size and direction in shots during Miss Trunchbull's first appearance. In one shot, there are no shadows at all, as the children are all in shade.
- At the beginning of the film, baby Matilda writes her name in the mess she made on the counter. The last "A" gets shorter right after she writes it.
- As the Wormwood's house between shots after sitting down, Ms. Honey's hair alternates from shadowing her ear to being tucked behind it without her actually moving her hand to make the adjustment.
- When the Trunchbull first walks out of the school building to see the students, the doors close in the overhead shot, then again in the behind shot of the Trunchbull.
- Chalk "X" on the blackboard changes to a straight line.
- The FBI agent's camcorder opens twice.
- The water level in the glass that holds the nest.
- When Lavender is levitated, the wires are visible as she descends (pan and scan version).
- While Matilda intimidates the Trunchbull with her magic powers at her house, she gets the Trunchbull's mantle clock to chime 9, 10, and 12, but not 11. However, it is quite likely that Matilda decided to skip 11 and head straight for 12.
- At the beginning, when the librarian is telling Matilda about the library cards, Matilda responds, "That would be wonderful." This is still four-year-old Matilda, but the voice-over is obviously Mara Wilson - the six-year-old Matilda actress.
- Before the spoon goes into Matilda's mouth, a rod is seen sticking out of one end, clearly holding it up (full frame only).
- When Matilda levitates the water pitcher to show Miss Honey her powers, the shadow of the water pitcher is still where it should be if it were sitting on the tabletop.
- When Miss Trunchbull puts Matilda in the Chokey, she bumps into one of the nails through the door and then it shakes like it's rubber.
- When Matilda is levitating the doll out of the window she is sitting on the roof and the shingles are obviously made of some type of soft material because they give way when she is moving about them.
- When Zinnia is coloring her hair, you can see there's no hair dye in the bottle.
- When Miss Trunchbull throws the newt onto a ceiling light, the close-up of it clearly shows it to be made of rubber. But when it falls into a pupil's hands, it's a real newt again.