20 Years On: “Matilda”

Some films you can’t help but love. When they’re films from your childhood, that you never really left there, the love may be that much stronger. Not all films from ones childhood can stand up to time, but there are some that can, and those ones should be kept near, not simply so you can revisit a childhood favorite, but because the film’s that good.

The TriStar Pictures film “Matilda”, is still a magical, funny, and enjoyable film that should be shared and cherished in all families.

This family comedy stars Danny DeVito (“Wiener-Dog”, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), Rhea Perlman (“The Mindy Project”, “Mom”), Embeth Davidtz (“Ray Donovan”, “The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe”), Pam Ferris (“Call the Midwife”, “Saving Santa”), and Mara Wilson (“BoJack Horseman”, “Broad City”).

The film was directed by DeVito (“Curmudgeons (Short 2016)”, “Nest of Vipers (Short 2011)”) and written by Nicholas Kazan (upcoming “The Whole Truth”, “Enough”) and Robin Swicord (“The Jane Austen Book Club”, “Memoirs of a Geisha”). It is based on the book of the same name by Roald Dahl.

The film originally opened on Aug. 2, 1996.

20 years old! I can’t believe it!! Man do I feel old! It just seems so impossible. Well, clearly it’s not. Even though the film technically turned 20 yesterday, which was occupied by another film also celebrating this birthday, I’m glad I’ve gotten to see this film again. While this is the first time I’ve seen it in its entirety in some time, it’s not the first time I’ve watched it. Thank god for FreeForm (formerly ABC Family)! If it weren’t for that network I don’t think I’d even have seen some of it. Also, the fact that I have two young nephews helps, but I wouldn’t really need them to convince myself watching this film on TV was a good idea. You can’t go wrong with this film.

Well, you can only if you’re me and you’re writing about it.

I’ve been stuck on how to approach this piece today, and I’m still not all that certain. Even the notes, which really weren’t necessary, but done out of tradition, can’t help me. I’m surprised by that. Oh well, I’ll do my best. Please don’t pelt me with the food from your lunchbox’s and paperbags as that would be one mess I’m not responsible for.

Okay, so, now that that’s out of the way. Let me profess to y’all how much I love this film.

I LOVE this film!!!

I hear that going past three exclamation points is just crazy, so I’m going to leave it at that.

But I really do love this film. It’s why I could, if I wanted to, watch it every time it’s on TV and never tire of it. Point in fact, there’s not a moment in this film that gets old. As I was watching this today, I also discovered, which isn’t that surprising, that I’ve memorized various lines of dialogue and scenes over the last 16 years. I don’t know when I first saw this, but I’m sure it was before 2000. In that time, if not before, I’ve just loved it more and more.

This love, is actually why I can’t figure out how to write this. There’s nothing wrong with it! Now, I know that’s obviously something we can say is a biased opinion, but now having seen it as an adult, and keeping in mind all the other children and family film’s I’ve watched, I think I viewed this film as objectively as possible.

It would certainly explain why the only thing I truly find wrong with it is some of the CGI. It’s not the best work, but it still does the trick. In fact, I think it actually helps this film. Remember, this is a kid’s film, and as they’re probably laughing and enjoying all the crazy antics and name calling, the off CGI just adds to the enjoyment. My nephews certainly have loved this film, and they’re both under 10. For me, it’s obvious what the limitations were, but because this CGI work is smaller, than say “Jumanji”, it’s not that distracting. Helping too is the fact that the sequences that use the CGI aren’t that long. I think the longest is when the boy is thrown out the window and Wilson makes him fly all around, before finally bringing him back into the classroom and knocking Trunchbull over. That moment was pretty bad, but you’re lost in the exciting action, so you don’t care.

I said there’s nothing wrong with this film, and there isn’t, but I didn’t express how much fun I had. I laughed, got angry, I got sad, I was in suspense (mainly the whole being in Trunchbull’s house and trying not to get caught. More suspenseful than I thought it could be all these years later), I was inspired (mostly as it pertains to Matilda’s love of books and learning), and I enjoyed the performances. Nothing was off with those, which is what made all the emotions I felt so easy to access. I must say too, that even though DeVito, Perlman, and Ferris were horrible people, they were an absolute blast to watch! And thus, it was even more fun to watch Wilson take action and teach her parent’s a lesson, or Trunchbull, which were always amusing to watch. It’s what makes it so easy to love how she gets along with the other students and Davidtz’s Miss Honey. You’re not only rooting for her, but feel for her.

If anything, this emotional level is what surprised me most. I’m sure it’s purely because I never looked at the film this way. I’m sure the only thing I did was respond to what was happening. This time around, I could do that still, but also appreciate how the emotional components and character growth were weaved in. There were so many good and organic moments that just built up Wilson and Davidtz so much, that all you wanted to do was give them both hugs. There’s also the friendships that Wilson makes, which continue to show her a world she didn’t know. I’m pretty sure the book, which I’m currently rereading with my nephews, doesn’t come close to achieving this kind of complex human drama. Sometimes films can improve upon a book!

Some childhood films should stay just that, in ones childhood. As a distant memory. However, nostalgia is a powerful thing, as is having children or nieces and nephews of your own, or young cousins, with whom you want to share these childhood gems. While there may be many film’s from your childhood you wish to share, not all will be received well by the younger viewers, and not all will delight you in the ways that once did. It’s the difficult thing about time, but for the few films that still get you excited and can entertain you, it’s best to hold onto them. You’ll at least always have a favorite go to childhood film, and if you’re even luckier, it will still entertain you well into old age.


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