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Release Date: 11/23/22 [Netflix]
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Musical

Studio: Netflix

"An adaptation of the Tony and Olivier award-winning musical. Matilda tells the story of an extraordinary girl who, armed with a sharp mind and a vivid imagination, dares to take a stand to change her story with miraculous results." 


Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical is a retelling made from passion that is as timeless as the classic novel. In a time when every classic story is updated and recreated for “modern times”, Matilda the Musical stands out as a faithful adaptation. It doesn’t attempt to have the audience sympathize with its villainous characters. It doesn’t add to the lore of this world to make something bigger than what the book was. It doesn’t water down the nastiness that its world is full of either. It, like childrens tales of old, doesn’t speak down to its audience. That dreary, yet undeniably upbeat tone, enables the film to be truly empathetic and engrossing. 


And its beating heart is found in the perfect performances throughout the film. Alisha Weir is the best Matilda we have ever seen on screen. Her performance is layered, as her high energy, rebellious, and hopeful personality hides the emotional scars of years of parental neglect. Her performance is elevated by the supporting cast, who enable her eccentricities to shine. Sindhu Vee plays the traveling librarian Mrs. Phelps, who is taken in by Matilda’s natural talent for telling dark stories. Vee’s expressions enhance every word that Matilda says, guiding the audience’s own understanding of the exceptional girl named Matilda. This is the magic that Director Matthew Warchus taps into for the entire film. Every performance highlights who Matilda is. And no where is this clearer than in Lashana Lynch’s performance as Miss Honey. Lynch manages to not only be in awe of Matilda, but to also care about her as though she is her daughter. There is a softness to the performance when Lynch and Weir share any scene that immediately conveys to the audience how much these characters mean to each other. And it’s through that emotional core that we begin to see how Matilda changes the lives of the people around her. 


Stephen Graham (Mr. Wormwood), Andrea Riseborough (Mrs. Wormwood), and Emma Thompson (Agatha Trunchbull) give some of the nastiest villain performances in children's fiction. Roald Dahl’s novel characterized them perfectly, as individuals who sought to pick on the flaws of kids for the sole purpose of being better than them. And these actors have brought that to life magnificently. Thompson commands each and every scene she is in, moving with a rhythm of impending doom threatening to destroy the very kids she regards as little more than maggots. But even away from school, Matilda isn’t safe. Both Graham and Riseborough manage to capture the worst elements of any parent, being uninterested in their daughter's life, blaming her for their failures, and seemingly always in an argument with one another. Their performances are magnificent not because they are similar, but because their approaches to their characters are so different. Graham plays up the physical comedy of Mr. Wormwood’s situations while enhancing his dense nature. Meanwhile, Riseborough aims to be high society, consistently wearing the newest fashions and feigning understanding of current events. It’s through their combined efforts that Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is as fun to watch as it is. 


Outside of the performances, is a screenplay that lingers a little too long. The film's pacing struggles to maintain momentum in its middle act, though every individual song and scene seems fine at first glance. There is no obvious problem within the individual scenes, but when cut together, it's quickly apparent that the film lacks the dynamics to keep individuals interested. The film lacks the tension and/or set-pieces required to keep an audience engaged for a 2 hour runtime. It quickly becomes a one-note adventure, still fun and entertaining, but not quite as engaging as it could be. Thankfully, the songs more than make up for this downfall. I am a sucker for musicals, and the tunes here are some of the most fun in years. Whether it’s Matilda’s anthem, Naughty, or the highly creative School Song (in spite of its simple title), the music consistently tells the story while being fun to listen to. School Song integrates spelling into its lyrics and visuals in a way that is a marvel to witness. All together, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is a wonderful children’s musical that is well worth a watch by anyone with a Netflix Subscription, though it alone wouldn’t justify the purchase of a subscription, especially considering the rising costs of streaming.

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