Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): An enjoyable standard movie adaptation

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical”, which was released on Netflix on Christmas, is as cheerful and naughty as you can expect from the film adaptation of a popular stage musical based on one of the well-known works from Roald Dahl. While it is sweet, cheery, colorful on the whole, the movie also has some dark and vicious sides to amuse or scare its young target audiences, and everything is mostly packaged well together along with a number of nice musical scenes.

Because I have not seen the stage musical itself, the adaptive screenplay by Dennis Kelly, who wrote the musical version along with director Matthew Warchus and songwriter Tim Minchin, is fairly faithful to Dahl’s original children’s book. Our plucky little young heroine Matilda Wormwood (Alisha Weir) has often been neglected by her callously self-absorbed parents since she was born, but she has managed to grow up pretty well alone by herself, and she does not have much problem with her parents as long as they let her spend her own time with books without bothering her at all.

However, Matilda’s daily life happens to be disrupted when her parents, who did not care about her education at all from the beginning, comes to send her to a local private school run by its stern and imposing headmaster Miss Agatha Trunchbull (Emma Thompson). Right from its first appearance, the school looks gloomy and harsh enough to be described as Dickensian, but Matilda is not daunted at all, and her considerable intelligence and spirit soon comes to draw the attention of everyone in the school including her classroom teacher Miss Jennifer Honey (Lashana Lynch), a kind and tender young woman who is frequently daunted by Miss Trunchbull just like many others in the school.

Of course, Miss Trunchbull does not want anyone to disrupt her firm status quo in the school. No matter how much Matilda and her schoolmates try to be cheerful and defiant with their songs and dances, Miss Trunchbull is determined to crush all their spirits by any means necessary, and there is one grotesque moment when she casually wields a certain athletic skill of hers in front of her terrified students.

Meanwhile, our young heroine is also harassed more by her parents, and she usually finds herself escaping into a little story she makes up and then shares with Mrs. Phelps (Sindhu Vee), a local mobile librarian lady who are always ready to borrow her many different kinds of books. Matilda’s story is a sort of fairy tale about one young circus couple and their little daughter who has to endure a lot due to her evil step-aunt, and it goes without saying that this story is eventually connected with the main narrative of the film.

As she pours more emotion into her story, Matilda somehow acquires a telekinetic power, and this special power of hers is increased as she uses it more and more during next several days. While she is told early in the film that she should not be bad to others even if they are not so nice to her at all, she cannot help but mischievous and furious, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that, after learning of something personal between Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull, she will eventually use her special power against her hateful schoolmaster.

This story setting surely can be as dark as, say, “Carrie” (1976), but the movie steadily maintains its cheery mood as usual. As a matter of fact, even Miss Trunchbull comes to have her own fantasy musical moment in the middle of the story, and we surely have a little laugh from that before we wince again for her sheer nastiness which may influence a lot Imelda Staunton’s equally mean character in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007).

Technically, the movie is more or less than a standard musical adaptation, but it delivers its musical sequences fairly well on the whole, and young performer Alisha Weir duly holds the center as required. Along with a bunch of child performers on the screen, she brings a considerable amount of natural charm and spirit into their big musical scenes in the film, and I would have not mind at all if they had suddenly performed instead that striking school musical scene from “Pink Floyd – the Wall” (1982).

Around Weir, several other adult cast members have some fun with playing their colorful caricature roles. Sindhu Vee and Lashana Lynch are effective as two kind adult characters in the Matilda’s life, and Lynch demonstrates here a considerable range of her talent while feeling quite different from her tough supporting turns in “No Time to Die” (2021) and “The Woman King” (2022). As Matilda’s utterly obnoxious parents, Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough willingly throw themselves into their crude supporting parts, and the same thing can be said about Emma Thompson. Even though she is actually not taller or bulkier than me, she somehow looks quite heavy and imposing in the film, and she surely enjoys every nasty but undeniably juicy moment handed to her.

In conclusion, “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” is an enjoyable musical movie mainly thanks to the engaging performances from its main cast members, and I was entertained by its delicious mix of sweetness and nastiness. Although it does not surpass the 1996 movie adaptation of Dahl’s book, the movie has enough charm and spirit to keep things rolling to the end at least, and it may cheer you up a bit in the middle of the ongoing holiday season.

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