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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Fantasy > Literature > Matilda (1996/Sony Blu-ray)

Matilda (1996/Sony Blu-ray)

Picture: C Sound: B- Extras: C- Film: B+

One of my favorite authors of all time is Roald Dahl, so when it comes to films based on his works I am very critical. In 1996, TriStar Pictures released Matilda (based on the novel by the same name) starring Mara Wilson as Matilda and Danny DeVito (Harry Wormwood) with Rhea Pearlman (Zinnia Wormwood) as her horribly, atrocious parents.

The story of Matilda follows a young girl who from birth was emotionally and physically neglected, left to her own devices to develop into a young woman with astonishing powers. Whereas other children may have sunk, Matilda (Mara Wilson) swam; using a library and books as her babysitter, absorbing every last drop of knowledge that she could. After some convincing and a convenient excuse to pawn their child off on the US school system, The Wormwoods enroll Matilda at Crunchem Hall. Crunchem Hall is a rundown school with a notoriously angry and beastly headmaster named Agatha Trunchbull (Pam Ferris). Matilda could not be more elated to finally be in school, but after befriending several children and learning of Miss Trunchbull's nasty ways, fear sets in.

The Trunchbull takes extreme pleasure in torturing children and keeping the teachers of Crunchem Hall on their toes with daily inspections. Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) is Matilda's good hearted teacher who subsequently is revealed to be The Trunchbull's niece. During one of her inspections the children of Miss Honey's class place a newt in her drinking water; freaking out The Trunchbull and concurrently inciting her rage. Whereas most live in fear of The Trunchbull, Matilda (being the special girl she is) discovers and refines some extraordinary powers. Never truly explained why, Matilda possesses telekinetic powers that allow her to move objects with her mind; I suppose she developed these powers by exercising her mind from a young age, having to care for herself. As the film progresses we get to see Matilda use her powers for good as she saves the other children, defeats the Trunchbull, and manages to find her happy ending (and Miss Honey's as well).

I can't say that the film is spot on with the novel, as the novel feels a bit grittier with a fantasy edge; like most of Dahl's novels. What I can say, however, is the film was very well done with solid acting throughout (DeVito and Pearlman at their best) while keeping a consistent tone and pace. Pan Ferris as the Trunchbull steals the show and is certainly the most memorable character. Mara Wilson is cute and does a good enough job as she utilizes her I'm a little kid with a lisp shtick; though she can be a bit annoying at times. We get guest appearances from Tracey Walter and Paul Reuben as quirky FBI agents who are consistently duping Mrs. Wormwood, posing as boat salesman as they look into Mr. Wormwood's less than legal business practices.

The film is quite fun and can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone. It never feels like a nonsensical children's tale, though it is consistently family friendly. The energy and life brought to this imaginative tale by the likes of Ferris, DeVito, and Pearlman are refreshing and though I would have preferred a slightly grittier tale, Matilda does a fine job.

The picture is presented as a 1080p, AVC Encoded, MPEG-4 2.40 X 1 image that is nice enough as an improvement over the DVD, but falls flat as a Blu-ray. The image is clean and clear with a fine layer of grain consistent with filming technique; but overall the quality is not nearly as sharp as it should be. The colors are also nice, but do not pop as they should with a somewhat blah contrast. The sound is a 5.1 DTS HD-Master Audio track that is somewhat nicer than the picture attempting to use all of the surrounds, but concurrently comes heavily from the front. Panning effects are nice enough and the musical scores do immerse the viewer.

Extras are weak with little offer, seemingly ported over from the DVD with the exception of one HD bonus feature, which is the nicest of the bunch. Extras include:

  • My Movie about Making Matilda

  • Matilda's Movie Magic

  • A Children's Guide to Good Manners

  • Escape to the Library

  • Afternoon Tea, a very Magical Matilda Reunion

    • A new HD featurette that has the cast/crew uniting to talk up the film and their memories

- Michael P. Dougherty II


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