Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson) is born into a family that barely notices her, much less appreciates her special intelligence and clever creativity. Based on the book by Roald Dahl, author of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", among other children's classics, this light-hearted film brings this magical little girl to life on screen.
Talented director Danny DeVito portrays Matilda's dad, Harry, a dishonest used car salesman, and narrates the story. His wife Rhea Perlman plays the role of Zinnia, Matilda's bingo-obsessed mom. Neither parent shows much interest in their daughter from day one, leaving her home alone to fend for herself. This is taken to extreme silliness that's cause for lots of laughs. Our kids found it hysterical that Matilda was smarter than her parents on most day to day issues, like knowing how old she is, or managing to fix a decent meal!
One thing I just love about this movie is how the Wormwoods are portrayed as ignorant, TV-reliant fools but young Matilda figures out how much fun the library can be. There she finishes book after book, learning so many new things! She can't wait until she's old enough to go to school, and eventually is sent to Miss Trunchbull's awful school, where the burly principal (Pam Ferris) brandishes a riding whip and threatens to lock children in the "chokie", a closet with nails protruding from the door into a broken, steaming pipe! But the optimistic, determined Matilda figures any school is better than none at all. And there she meets new friends, including the kind Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) who will change her world forever!
While released in 1996, this film has not lost its charm and appeal for children and their families over the years. It's rare for a movie to actually advocate switching off the television set in favor of a good book or quality time just having fun together. For instance, Miss Honey and Matilda are shown pushing the living room furniture out of the way to roll around on the floor and play with hula hoops, or having an outdoor picnic with their favorite dolls.
Children and parents alike will find the over-the-top humor and extreme situations hysterically funny, and will enjoy Matilda's escapades as she realizes she has a magical power to help her get through some of her troubles, and learns to control it. The film is not meant to be realistic in terms of plot line, but has valuable lessons underlying all the fun, as mentioned above. Definitely one that will be treasured and remembered by the whole family!
This film is rated PG and runs for 98 minutes. Short and sweet! Just the right length to break up a rainy afternoon. At the time of this review, this movie is currently available on Comcast On Demand for free.