Review by Camden Ferrell
Roald Dahl is one of the most influential writers of children’s literature in modern history, and his legacy can be seen in one of the myriads of adaptations of his work. His book, Matilda, was adapted into a movie in 1996 and a stage musical in 2011. Now, we are receiving the film adaptation of the stage musical, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical. From director Matthew Warchus, this musical is overall an enjoyable experience even if it can sometimes fail to catch the source material’s infectious charm.
Matilda is a unique and special girl. She’s imaginative and unfathomably well-read and intelligent for someone her age. She is in a family that doesn’t appreciate her gifts, and she finds herself in a new school, one run by a cruel headmistress who aims to break the spirits of children. With her special abilities and a sharp mind, Matilda aims to take a stand against oppression and change the trajectory of her life.
Written by Dennis Kelly, who also wrote the stage musical, the writing is quite whimsical as intended. The dialogue isn’t the most fluid, but it mostly captures the imaginative and playful spirit of its source material. There are a few moments and jokes that obviously don’t land perfectly, but as far as writing goes, it achieves what it sets out to do.
A musical requires an ensemble that can act, sing, and dance, and this cast delivers on all fronts. Alisha Weir leads the film in a charming turn as the titular character. For a child, she is very talented especially with the energy she delivers to bring the character to life. Emma Thompson gives a transformative performance as Miss Trunchbull which is outlandish and works very well within the context of the movie. The rest of the cast consists of actors like Lashana Lynch, Andrea Riseborough, and many young actors who are all apt in their respective roles.
The most important part of a musical is its musical numbers obviously. This movie has a handful of sequences that are fantastic thanks to its impressive choreography and blocking. Sadly, most of the numbers are just really solid and fail to capture the eccentric energy of its story. In addition to this, a lot of its visual effects leave much to be desired. Half of this can work due to the imaginative and silly nature of the movie, but the rest unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical will be suitable viewing for families and audiences of all ages will find something to enjoy. It does a decent job of adapting the classic story for a new generation, and it has a talented cast to help bring it to life. The songs are catchy, and the story is as enjoyable as it needs to be. Not a must-see film, but it’s certainly a harmless time for anyone looking for a movie this holiday season.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is in theaters December 9 and on Netflix December 25.