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By Chris dos Santos
27th July 2021

When I wrote about the original 'The Witches' last year, there had not been a bad Roald Dahl film adaption. Well, that changed much later with the 2020 version of 'The Witches' - but it stills stands that 1996's 'Matilda' is the forefront winner for Dahl's work.

I first experienced the film around the age of 4 at a local primary school that was having an outdoor movie night on the soccer field, the film projected onto an inflatable screen. And what a way to be first introduced into this magical world.

There is something universal about Matilda's story. I think every child, even briefly, feels like they don't fit into their family and the world around them. As we grow up, we start to work out who we are and what makes us uniquely special, and sometimes that comes with its challenges. Matilda is smart, and her family belittles her because of it. It's not until she meets Miss Honey that she realises she is special and being smart is cool.


Dahl's work is often whimsical but horrifying, and I think that's one big reason why many of us latch onto his work at a young age, drawn in with fantastical elements but freaked out by the sheer horror. Miss Trunchbull is one of cinema's greatest villains; she compares to creatures in horror films because she awakens the fear we've all felt that way at one point towards a teacher. Particularly if you watched this as a child, you thought teachers would actually treat you this way - force you to eat cake, grab you by your pigtails and spin you around, or even worse throw you in the chokey.

Because of its realistic setting (especially when compared to both versions of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and 'The Witches') this film resonates even more with children. From her family - brilliantly played by Danny DeVito and - to her school, 'The Witches' brings to life how a lot of kids understand and view the world around them. You then add the fantastical elements like Matilda's powers, coupled with the message of believing in yourself, and there's a multitude of reasons why this story still resonates with kids around the world. It's what makes it one of the greatest kid's films of all time - the way it balances the realism and fantasy. DeVito, who also directs, really has a great understanding of the source material and how to speak to children.

On the actors, there is no 'Matilda' without Mara Wilson. She is just one of those perfect child actors that just embodies the role.

'Matilda's' legacy lived on in 2010 with the absolutely breathtaking stage musical adaption. It adds things back in from the book that didn't fit in the movie, and Tim Minchin's lyrics and music perfectly capture that wordplay Dahl was so famous for; 'The School Song' is a perfect illustration of this. Standouts include the beautiful 'When I Grow Up', and the empowering 'Revolting Children' that always makes me want to join a rebellion. A film adaption is currently in place at Netflix with filming just started, though a COVID-19 scare has caused a minor setback. I just hope they can both do the original movie and the musical justice.

The musical perfectly captures what 'Matilda' is about in this one lyric: "Nobody but me is gonna change my story, sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty." It's that agency that kids are looking for; to make their own decisions, and sometimes the only way to do that is to break the rules - and, more often than not, break the mould along with it.

The use of Rusted Root's 'Send Me on My Way' in the film is one of the most iconic uses of music in any media.

RELEASE DATE: 19/09/1996
RUN TIME: 1h 38m
CAST: Mara Wilson
Danny Devito
Rhea Perlman
Embeth Davidtz
Pam Ferris
Paul Reubens
Tracey Walter
Jean Speegle Howard
Brian Levinson
Sara Magdalin
DIRECTOR: Danny Devito
WRITERS: Nicholas Kazan
Robin Swicord
PRODUCERS: Danny Devito
Liccy Dahl
Michael Shamberg
Stacey Sher
SCORE: David Newman
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