‘Matilda the Musical’ Review: Netflix’s New Adaptation Is a Theatre Kid’s Dream Come True
Matilda the Musical took over the West End and Broadway in such a big way that it changed how I related to the material. The 1996 film was not really my cup of tea, so I never ventured to read the Roald Dahl book that inspired it. But I was pleasantly surprised by my love of the musical and this character who taught me that even if you’re little, you can do a lot because “you mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you.”
So when Netflix announced a movie version of the hit show, I knew it was going to be brilliant. From director Matthew Warchus (who directed the stage version) and screenwriter Dennis Kelly (who also adapted Dahl’s book for the stage), the movie brings to life the music of Tim Minchin (who also wrote a new song for the film) in such a way that it honors what I loved so much about the musical while still being completely its own thing.
The story is one we know so well: Matilda (Alisha Weir) is a girl who is unwanted by her parents and reminded of that fact time and time again. But when Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch) and the school discover that Matilda is not being educated at home despite her obvious intelligence, they enroll her at Crunchem Hall, which is ruled by evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson). Matilda, being the strong girl she is, inspires the school to push back against Trunchbull and finds someone who believes in her in Miss Honey.
When I grow up …
One of the masterful parts of the stage musical (which is captured in an equally beautiful, albeit different way in the movie) is how it highlights the child in all of us. In the Broadway staging, there are “adult” children who are part of the student body and step in to perform parts of the show that the child actors couldn’t. But they were also used to show how brave the children of Matilda are. In the number “When I Grow Up,” which is set during recess, the adult children swing out into the audience on large swings, and—just when you think it’s only adult actors because the stunt is too dangerous for children—the kids switch places with the adults, jumping on and swinging out into the audience, too.
This number in the movie is a bit different: The children are doing “adult” things, like driving a car and working, to show how they’ll still be fun and adventurous as adults. The movie works because it highlights the childlike belief that there is good in this world; it exists within Miss Honey, despite the fact that she doesn’t have that kind of faith in people given how she’s been treated throughout her life.
The perfect Miss Honey
Lashana Lynch brings Miss Honey to life in Matilda the Musical with such a gentleness and brilliance that emphasizes why Lynch is one of our best actresses working today. We’ve seen her kick ass in No Time To Die and The Woman King, and we’ve watched her support a friend in Captain Marvel, but her performance in Matilda the Musical is an absolute marvel.
When it comes to teaching, Miss Honey is famously a gentle counterpoint to the strict nature of Miss Trunchbull. She’s kind and cares about her students, and she knows that being patient and sweet with them has a more positive influence on their learning environment than the fear that Trunchbull wants to instill in her students.
Lynch’s openness to Weir’s Matilda is so incredibly beautiful that you just want them both to find the happiness they so rightfully deserve. When Miss Honey joins the song at the end of “When I Grow Up,” you can hear her pain and her desire to fight back against Trunchbull, and it is such a brilliant performance that I haven’t stopped thinking about how amazing Lashana Lynch is in this movie.
A new generation’s Matilda
Matilda is an important character because she teaches us to not let the bullies win. Bullies can sometimes be the people who are supposed to protect and guide us, and Matilda isn’t ready to let Trunchbull hurt those who have become her friends. This musical really highlights the power that we all have in determining our own story, no matter our age. And it brings out the kid in us all.
I’m excited that a new generation of kids have this Matilda to grow up with. Not that the Mara Wilson version wasn’t good; she was funny and sassy in a way that bookish kids, like myself, could relate to. But Matilda the Musical is just a different beast entirely, and I love it so very much.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical hits select theaters on December 9. It will be available on Netflix on Christmas Day, December 25.
(featured image: Netflix)
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