REVIEW: Matilda: magical musical adaptation

If Pink Floyd’s The Wall taught me anything, it’s that British children do not take kindly to disrespect from their educators. Perhaps I learned this lesson earlier from Roald Dahl’s Matilda, but if I did I don’t remember it. 

I was pretty sure the story had something to do with a hammer-tossed girl and maybe some psychic abilities, but other than that I went into Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical simply knowing that it was a story kids appreciated, and now I can see why: Justice against bullies, even if they are exaggerated and cartoonish bullies, is timeless and satisfying. 

Matilda the Musical is certainly the latter and might just prove to be the former as well.

As the 30-year-olds who routinely star in high school-set movies and television shows can tell you, centering a production on children characters played by actual children can be quite a challenge. 

There’s a big difference between appreciating your niece or nephew awkwardly stumbling through their two lines as a tree in the local elementary school’s Thanksgiving play and watching kids try and fail to be anything other than annoying on the screen, but I can happily say that is not the case with Matilda the Musical

The kids in the cast do all the heavy lifting, and there is nary a weak link to be found. Especially impressive is Alisha Weir, Matilda herself, who shines with an adorable energy that is hard not to smile at. 

The adult cast is equally exceptional, particularly Emma Thompson as the horrible and hateful Miss Trunchbull, who is hard to look at and even harder to not wish immediate and painful death for.

The musical aspects of the film translate surprisingly well from the show’s West End origins, and though there is really only one song that stuck with me (and stick with me it will for the rest of my life, if my mental soundtrack of the last few days is any indication), all of the musical numbers are a joy to behold in the moment. The lyrics are clever and never shy away from the exaggeratedly dour tone that the book is famous for, and the dance choreography is as brilliant as it is inventive. 

Not every musical can comfortably make the leap from the stage to the screen, but Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical does so with aplomb.

As is the case with the original story, Matilda the Musical could be a bit much for me at certain points, simply because how over-the-top the frank child abuse could be. 

Yes, the bullying is satirical and even Dickensian in its nature, but there’s no denying that Matilda mostly feels like the depressing beginning parts of Harry Potter without the magical school to escape to. But who am I to argue with the success of a classic? 

Matilda the Musical successfully maintains the spirit of Roald Dahl’s novel, and if you liked the original you will love this one. Teachers, leave them kids alone.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical is now available on Netflix.