Movie Review: Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical

‘Matilda’ is a beloved Roald Dahl tale, the story of a sharp-witted girl with a vivid imagination who struggles to deal with the childish adults in her life. First adapted to film in 1996 under the direction of Danny DeVito, the Hollywood reimagining was well-received, capturing the essence of the book in a charming and offbeat family comedy with fantasy elements.

The latest version from Matthew Warchus, the director of Pride, is an adaptation of the Tony and Olivier award-winning musical. A colourful and imaginative reflection of the family-friendly musical, this adaptation seems to be more aimed at kids in its bid to appeal to power and wish fulfilment.

As expected, the story hinges on the adversarial and iconic roles of Matilda and Miss Trunchbull. Alisha Weir is a remarkable young talent whose performance requires dexterity across a range of disciplines. As with the stage musical, the production pivots on this titular role, which while fulfilled is somewhat vacant in terms of charm. Emma Thompson (Nanny McPhee) is almost unrecognisable, adopting various facial and body prosthetics to enhance her over-the-top performance as the cantankerous and ill-tempered Miss Trunchbull.

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“Okay, who said Trunchbull 5x in front of the mirror?”

Set in the UK, there’s a greater sense of authenticity to this lively production, augmenting Tim Minchin’s musical numbers with some energetic choreography. It’s not nearly as magical as Hogwart’s but does echo J.K. Rowling’s desire to prevent Harry Potter from becoming too Hollywood. However, as British as it tries to be… it’s mostly just a change of accents and backdrops.

While everyone seems to be pulling their weight from cast to crew, this musical doesn’t have the same charm as the stage play it’s based on. There’s a professional air to it all, making for a rather detached, glib and forced adaptation… a balloon floating away. Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical seems more concerned with visual splendour and stick-it-to-the-man attitude than crafting relatable characters or planting the story in a world that extends beyond the frame. As beautiful and upbeat as it is, there’s a hollowness and superficiality that undermines the energy and trinkets.

As it stands, there’s enough passion, entertainment value and rousing musical numbers to carry this fun movie through its paces but the cool distance restrains Matilda the Musical from reaching the lofty heights and charm of Roald Dahl’s delightful tale and the actual musical. A handsomely mounted production, it will probably fare better with genre fans and audiences who can appreciate the story’s novelty as it unfolds for the first time.

The bottom line: Colourful

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