'Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical' review: Successful adaptation
MOVIE "Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical'
WHERE Streaming on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT A cinematic adaptation of "Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical," which premiered on the West End in 2011 before debuting on Broadway two years later, arrives on Netflix just in time for some family holiday viewing.
Parents: If you're not familiar with the musical, the 1988 Roald Dahl novel that serves as the source material, or the prior big-screen adaptation of the book directed by Danny DeVito, please take our advice: Watch this movie with your kids.
No matter how stringent of a disciplinarian you've had to be, no matter the times you've laid down the law or insisted on something unpopular, it'll pale in comparison to the sheer villainy displayed by every adult but one in this story.
"I'm so glad you're not like those people," your kids will say, as "Matilda" brings families together.
The story concerns young Matilda Wormwood (Alisha Weir), the brilliant daughter of vain, neglectful parents (Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough). She's enrolled in a school run by the even more wicked Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson), a stern figure with a penchant for what she calls "the Chokey" as a means of punishment. Matilda, with the support of the kindhearted teacher Miss Jennifer Honey (Lashana Lynch), spurs her fellow students to revolt.
The adaptation is spearheaded by director Matthew Warchus and screenwriter Dennis Kelly — the director of the stage production and the author of its book, respectively — with Tim Minchin's songs standing front and center.
MY SAY "Matilda the Musical" captures the subversive spirit of Dahl's work by being unafraid of edgy caricatures and darker touches. There's no sacrificing of the fundamentals in the service of showy musical numbers or softening of the edges to appeal to the widest possible demographic.
Both at home and at school, Matilda and her compatriots are put through an ordeal because of egotistical people who have no business being caretakers.
It's a difficult tone to balance. The adults should be intimidating figures but also blatantly ridiculous enough that the story can maintain its perspective without going to a particularly disturbing place.
The filmmakers manage it by letting Thompson, Graham and Riseborough chew up so much scenery that they come across as much as tragic figures as villains. At the same time, Weir and her fellow children have charm and great comic timing, while also handling an ensemble number with aplomb.
This is also quite definitively a movie, rather than a stagebound adaptation. There's a real visual style here, characterized by exaggerated low angles, caricatured suburban settings, direct addresses to the camera and Big Brother-style imagery of the children being driven to conform at school.
That allows for the essence of this story to shine through: its child's-eye view of ridiculous, foolish adults and in the questions it raises about why we assume that wisdom comes with age.
BOTTOM LINE "Matilda the Musical" serves as a textbook example of how to adapt a stage production adapted from a book to the screen without sacrificing the spirit of its author.