'Matilda' may be geared towards the youngest among us, but I love it! Brimming with the sort of magic, fairytale charm and inspiring wonderment that sets imaginations soaring, I instantly fell in love with the movie, in spite of Danny DeVito's slightly less than satisfying work behind the camera. A host of memorable characters, from the story's eponymous little heroine to the chocolate-cake eating Bruce (Jimmy Karz) and braided pony-tailed Amanda (Jacqueline Steiger), make it a great joy to watch, something for the entire family to enjoy. Almost 20 years later, which is a shocking revelation in itself, the kid's film still entertains and rewards with laughter, heart and a lovely message about family.
Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord's adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel delivers precisely what any children's family movie should — a little of everything for everyone. I like to think of it as a simple, inoffensive, harmless kid's version of Stephen King's Carrie since it amusingly covers similar terrain having to do with self-discovery and realizing one's inner power (metaphorically expressed as a telekinetic abilities) when feeling powerless. Granted, the lack of pig's blood, ideas of womanhood and the massacre at a prom limit the comparisons, but like King's Carrie, our naturally talented and highly intelligent leading lady must also contend with bullies, tyrants and adults who underestimate her value.
Doing splendidly in the title role considering her young age and essentially expected to carry most of the movie, Mara Wilson stars as the adorably precocious Matilda, a beautifully gifted and inquisitive child with an exceptional passion for reading and learning. Perhaps, this is one reason for my own passion of the book and movie. Born into one of the worst and most neglectful families seen on the silver screen, her parents (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman at their comic best) care little about her interests in going to school, belittle her thirst for reading and are pretty much emotionally abusive. An older brother (Brian Levinson) is just one fat toad of a bully. Their attitude about television having greater importance over books continues to resonate to this day, and it having a zombie-like effect could practically be said of the internet and cellphones today.
As if that weren't enough for a young child to have to deal with, poor Matilda's life outside her home is as equally traumatizing, especially when she's finally allowed to enrolled into school. With a neglected, dilapidated building appropriately called Crunchem Hall, it's no surprise the headmistress is a nasty, ill-tempered old witch. Except that here, Mrs. Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) is a particularly cantankerous, foul and terrifying spinster with the face and body to match. Thankfully, the one adult that brings a ray of hope into Matilda's otherwise lonely and glum life is the beautiful, optimistic Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz), a gentle, encouraging teacher that shares in Matilda's pain and her aspiration for happiness.
Paul Reubens and Tracey Walter join the cast as a pair of bumbling FBI agents who are also quick to dismiss Matilda's intelligence. While the two serve the plot's purpose, they also feel somewhat underused because they add a few amusing moments. Nevertheless, the focus is on Matilda confronting an adult world of meanies, bullies and intimidators, and DeVito's film wonderfully brings Dahl's original children's tale to life with handful of energy, imaginative fantasy and animated charisma. It sadly doesn't happen often when we have a family kid's movie that encourages a child's inquisitive nature and inspires for intelligence without also being heavy-handed, but 'Matilda' is that one special rarity that can be equally enjoyed by the youngest among us as well as the grumpiest and oldest.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'Matilda' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc with a flyer for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. Housed inside a blue, eco-vortex case, the disc starts with a couple skippable trailers before switching to static menu screen with options along the bottom, a pic of the cover art and music.
Little Matilda shares her special magic on Blu-ray with a nice and generally pleasing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Overall, the video offers a noticeable improvement over its DVD counterpart, but it isn't quite up to the level we've come to expect from high-definition video. The 2.40:1 window displays great clarity and resolution with well-defined lines in the foliage, clothing, various furniture and architecture. The picture isn't always the sharpest, but the image is agreeable with a thin layer of grain and an appreciable film-like quality. Colors are cleanly rendered, providing the film with energy and animation. Contrast is a tad on the flat side, but it's consistent and well-balanced throughout while black levels appear accurate and full-bodied.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is slightly better than the video, as it does the job admirably. The design is really more front-heavy, creating a nice and charming soundstage with excellent channel separation. The mid-range is clean without a hint of distortion, yet it's never pushed very far or ever feels strained in any way. Bass is also pleasing with several strong good moments of palpable weight, but there's not really much. David Newman's score exhibits fine distinction and clarity in the instrumentation and lightly bleeds into the surrounds, keeping things lively and engaging. The rears are mostly quiet, but a few discrete effects create decent moments of ambience, making this a fun lossless mix.
Geared for the youngest among us, Danny DeVito's 'Matilda' is a delightful and a terrifically entertaining family children's film. Brimming with the sort of magic, fairytale charm, and inspiring wonderment that sets imaginations soaring, this Roald Dahl adaptation is one for the kids and for the adults still young at heart. The Blu-ray arrives with good picture quality and a stronger audio presentation. Supplemental material is on the light side, but the overall package makes a worthy purchase for the price.