Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (2022)

matilda the musical

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (2022) Directed by Matthew Warchus

Matilda the musical, based on the celebrated children’s novel of the same name written by Roald Dahl, with its hyperactive, wide schematic range of radiant colors, is a noisy, histrionic adaptation of the stage musical by Matthew Warchus, who also directs this film; an invasive, sparkling cohesion of shallow filmmaking and farcical dramaturgy.

Roald Dahl’s enchanting story, about the intelligent and sweet Matilda, sympathetically played by Alisha Weir, a telekinetic child genius born into the wrong family with stunningly ignorant and abusive parents who see their daughter’s intellectual enormity as a disgrace. At the drab, authoritarian Crunchem Hall School, dominated by the tyrannical Trunchbull, played by Emma Thompson, Matilda’s versatile wit and vast imagination learns to know the good and bad of the adult world, where she also has the joyous opportunity to meet her good-natured teacher Honey, played tenderly by Lashana Lynch, with whom she shares an endearing emotional rapport.

From the outset, the musical diversity and inherent implausibility of its theatrical properties seem the best choices to embody Dahl’s lively and emotive children’s literature, yet boisterous hubbub, musically expressive felicity and silky rainbow colors is too much meaningless pomp to lend purity and naturalness to a child’s playful imagination.

Equally flawed as the 1996 Danny DeVito-directed film, both err on the side of illustrating a hilariously hyper-artificial world unconscious of the emotional and didactic depth the characters evoke. At least, for all its glaring flaws, Danny DeVito’s film had a certain narrative personality more concerned with Matilda’s emotional context than with situational quaintness, giving it an affable empathetic continuity; unlike this one, which is sadly more concerned with mounting ecstatic mise-en-scènes to show off the musical sequences. Entertaining? Maybe. Nevertheless, there is something tremendously irritating and reprehensible in watching the filmmakers manipulate a cute and innocuous children’s story into a subversive allegory, which every logical adult will identify on which side of the political spectrum that exaltation belongs. Usually over-interpreting a story can be powerfully useful for an adaptation, but for a children’s tale I find it too pestiferous as Warchus’s gaudy direction.

Matteo Bedon
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When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them.
Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.