Review: Never a boring second (however many Dahl moments) within the charming ‘Matilda the Musical’

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” — an unwieldy title however a greater one, certainly, than “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical: The Movie” — is an enjoyably shiny and chipper adaptation of a transferring, melancholy story I’ve cherished since childhood. I wasn’t alone; I think about “Matilda” was catnip for lots of bookish youngsters with latent Anglophile tendencies and desires of overthrowing their bullies and escaping humdrum actuality.

More grounded and fewer outlandish than among the writer’s different juvenile fiction, Dahl’s 1988 novel tells of a kid genius in a small English village who’s blessed with the type of extraordinary brainpower that may change the world. It’s spawned a couple of diversifications already, together with an entertaining if bluntly Americanized 1996 film and a justly standard Olivier- and Tony-winning musical that has now immediately impressed this new film.

All that apart, there could also be one thing inherently contradictory about any filmed model of “Matilda,” because the novel itself is one thing of a kids’s cautionary story in regards to the perils of an excessive amount of TV watching. (The similar logic certainly applies to an excessive amount of Netflix, the place this bouncy, bright-colored adaptation will start streaming Dec. 25, after a quick theatrical run.)

Sit round watching the fool field evening after evening and also you would possibly turn into as crooked, ignorant and unrepentantly vulgar as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough, each garishly amusing), probably the most unworthy dad and mom of a younger lady of astounding intelligence and creativeness named Matilda (the profitable Alisha Weir).

Given the fairy-tale extremes and merciless ironies that have a tendency to manipulate Dahl’s storybook universe, the Wormwoods’ distinctive stupidity could also be exactly what gave Matilda her prodigiously gifted thoughts.

And for a younger reader, her presents encourage delight, protectiveness and no small quantity of wistful envy. To learn “Matilda” is to want your mind might multiply triple-digit numbers as swiftly as any calculator and to really feel freshly impressed to plunge headlong into “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Crime and Punishment” and the numerous different classics that Matilda has managed to plow by way of by age 6.

Alisha Weir and Stephen Graham within the film “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”


The new film, for all its charms, doesn’t obtain or encourage wherever close to the identical buzzing pro-literacy pleasure. Neither, to make certain, did the stage present, nevertheless it was additionally sufficiently contemporary and transporting that it scarcely mattered. Plenty of its pleasures have fortunately made it to the display screen intact, likely as a result of its central artistic trio — director Matthew Warchus, e-book author Dennis Kelly and composer-lyricist Tim Minchin — have retained their equal roles behind the digital camera.

And beneath these pleasures is a potent underlay of feeling: As pastel hues fill the display screen and perky melodies and wicked-smart lyrics flood the soundtrack, a story of a kid’s tragic neglect and deep longing comes into focus. At the identical time, one among Matilda’s most interesting qualities is her allergy to self-pity, her calm insistence that each child deserves, and may precise, a measure of justice.

“Just because you find that life’s not fair, it / doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it,” Matilda sings in “Naughty,” brilliantly advancing an hermetic case for a kid’s revenge. But her dad and mom, nonetheless in want of self-discipline, are too-easy targets.

Once she begins attending college, Matilda has a a lot greater fish to fry within the type of Miss Trunchbull, the towering, terrifying headmistress who guidelines with an iron fist and the credo “Bambinatum est maggitum” (Children are maggots). Played by a sneering, barking Emma Thompson, who donned a fats swimsuit and fascist army garb for the function, the Trunchbull is a memorably exaggerated monster. She’s additionally susceptible to excessive acts of kid abuse — solitary confinement, pigtail assault — that appear much more outlandish, for higher or worse, on this film’s cheery, effervescent presentation.

Fortunately, even earlier than the story’s intelligent swerve into Stephen King territory, Matilda has two benevolent grownup counterweights to the meanness and indifference that her dad and mom and the Trunchbull characterize. One is Matilda’s kind-hearted instructor, the aptly named Miss Honey (a transferring Lashana Lynch), who does her greatest to guard her college students from the headmistress’ psychotic wrath. The different is Mrs. Phelps (Sindhu Vee), the touring bookshop proprietor who allows Matilda’s ardour for literature, at the same time as she encourages the kid to concoct madly creative tales of her personal.

A girl in a red outfit stands next to a woman in a light blue coat in  "Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical."

Alisha Weir, left, and Lashana Lynch within the film “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”

(Dan Smith / Netflix)

That results in one of many film’s extra strained conceits, borrowed however not improved from the stage present, by which Matilda cooks up a romantic tall story — a circus-set love story — that holds up a fictional mirror to the principle motion. Onstage, the machine had a deft, gossamer-light magic; onscreen, it’s leaden and apparent, a type of unusual instances the place seeing isn’t fairly believing.

And it’s not the one occasion by which this “Matilda the Musical” loses one thing within the transition from magically impressed stagecraft to stable, proficient display screen craft. Even among the extra riotous song-and-dance numbers really feel extra mechanical right here, extra artificially polished and hemmed in, particularly when Matilda and her classmates seize the day with a joyous anthem of liberation known as “Revolting Children.”

For a film that bristles with extra revolutionary fervor than Dahl’s quieter, extra inward-focused story, “Matilda the Musical” might use somewhat messier, extra rambunctious power.

The focus and self-discipline of Warchus’ path is simple, maybe to a fault: It’s arduous to not really feel {that a} 2½-hour present has been whittled right down to inside an inch of its upbeat, family-friendly life. The surges of emotion are nonetheless there, the ultimate comeuppances nonetheless rousing, even when the climax itself smothers its most electrifying twist with some predictably ostentatious visible results. It all can’t assist however reinforce Dahl’s level — in addition to Matilda’s personal steadfast conviction — that the display screen actually has nothing on the printed phrase.

‘Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical’

Rated: PG, for thematic components, exaggerated bullying and a few language

Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Playing: Starts Dec. 9 at Regal L.A. Live; IPIC Theaters, Los Angeles; out there Dec. 25 on Netflix

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