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Matilda is a frustrated little girl. Her parents, played by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, begin neglecting her early in life, as they toss baby Matilda into the back of their car like a suitcase and drive home from the hospital. As she grows through her first six years, she discovers that reading provides an escape from her nasty parents, and the educational pastime quickly allows her to become smarter than anyone else in her family.
Her formal education begins at Crunchem Hall, a horrible school with a miserable principal named Trunchbul. Prisoner of war camps have more joy, as the grey building provides the ultimate exaggeration of the school experience. Principal Trunchbul dislikes one girl's pigtails, so she picks the child up by the hair and throws her like an Olympic hammer. The girl lands nicely, sliding through a field of flowers well beyond the school playground. Another child is accused of eating Trunchbul's chocolate cake, and is force fed a huge cake in front of a school assembly. Perhaps with Danny DeVito directing, he felt justified in using an obese boy to play this scene, but I see it as typical typecasting.
The video box says this is a family film, but parents will want to be careful about showing Matilda to the under eight crowd. In the end, everyone goes home happy, as Matilda bonds with the sweet Miss Honey, a loving teacher at the school, but the major problems are only solved through violence with Matilda's "special" powers being the chief weapon.
There is a fine line between sarcasm and depicted reality, and I think it is difficult for children to differentiate between the two. Maybe DeVito's hope is that any child will think they are better off than Matilda, but just as many children may see their own situation as hopeless because they don't have Matilda's special powers. Parents, as always, will need to make the final choice on this movie. Personally, I think we have had enough movies with genius kids, dumb parents, and inept teachers.
Matilda is rated PG: for elements of exaggerated meanness and ridicule, and for some mild language
Cast: Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman