Movie #21 2023: Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (2022)

There truly has been a lot of musical-to-film adapting in recent times, hasn’t there? In the last few years alone we’ve had The Prom, Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, Tick, Tick… Boom!, In the Heights, plus others, so it seems like there’s a real appetite still for movie musicals. Or is there? Maybe this is all just Hollywood’s way of churning out movies when they can’t find anyone with a sure fire idea on something original. Clearly there have been a lot of brilliant original movies in recent times (Everything Everywhere All At Once just swept the Oscars, after all!), yet it seems like big, blockbuster studios are still stuck on making adaptations, sequels and reboots. Make of that what you will.

Thankfully, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical isn’t actually all that bad. With music and lyrics from the brilliant Tim Minchin, there’s a lot to like about it. Based on Roald Dahl‘s classic 1988 novel, this is an adaptation of an adaptation since it was based on a musical that was based on a book, and it’s also the second movie produced from this source material seeing as there was already a (non-musical) version of Matilda starring Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito in 1996. Confusing? A little. For the most part, it follows pretty much the same premise: a young, neglected girl finally gets to go to school, only to find that it’s run by a sadistic headmistress. Against all odds, she turns her life around and discovers that she has some magical powers along the way.

Here’s the thing. I’m absolutely not one for listening to kids sing usually, but you’re absolutely right: Revolting Children does bang. For reference, that’s the double entendre-filled title of perhaps the best song in the entire musical and makes the whole thing worth it.

But yes, I’ll admit I was sceptical. Everyone is obsessed with trying not to compare this musical version to the 1996 Matilda, but it’s psychologically impossible not to. My concern really was this: who could possibly live up to the iconic Pam Ferris as Ms. Trunchbull? Thank God, casting got this right, because Emma Thompson is absolutely the singular actor who was up to the job. I draw a line at Thompson though – I would trust no one else to even come close. She’s the pinnacle of this movie for sure. 

Anyway, everyone was right not to box this in with the nineties iteration. It’s more than likely that this is the type of thing Roald Dahl had in mind when he wrote the book – it’s set in England, most obviously – and everything from the sets to the costuming is pretty marvellously done. The peak of the technical aspects though? Again, it’s Tim Minchin’s song-writing. Even the numbers that aren’t quite as catchy are always plot-advancing, and the ones that are are simply heaps of fun. 

There are absolutely some downsides here, particularly that it all feels incredibly long, which is often the case when musicals are adapted into films. Sadly, the worst parts for me were the scenes involving the Wormwoods. Angela Riseborough and Stephen Graham – especially for two seasoned actors – don’t suit their roles whatsoever, with both of them stepping way too far into caricature instead of simply making their characters larger than life. It’s really off-putting and sad since they’re both usually brilliant.  

Aside from one or two plot issues that seem really thin (the relationship between Matilda and Miss Honey seeming very rushed and Matilda’s magical powers mostly being a non-factor, for instance), this movie is definitely better than I was expecting. However, it’s not one I’ll be begging to rewatch either.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is currently available to rent on Amazon for £3.49 in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½


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