This Should’ve Won An Oscar: Rewatching Matilda

We’d never dream of doing an entire Matilda Week without rewatching the movie. Dare I say, this week was one part celebration of one of our favorite books and movies, one part commemoration of Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, and one part excuse to watch Matilda again. Like us, the movie has aged very well and is a constant delight. Here were some of our thoughts as we watched it:

This Should’ve Won An Oscar

In general, I think the cinematography is A+. Every scene can be taken as a still shot and look like a piece of art. Danny uses a lot of overhead shots and creative angles when need be, and I appreciate that when Matilda’s younger, there are a lot of camera shots taken from her point of view

I Forgot About 90s Film Quality

Maybe my DVD isn’t ~digitally remastered but I’m shocked by how dull and fuzzy this is.

Truly, Truly Iconic Scene

A+++ Casting On Young Matilda

During our last blog meeting we went on a search for the younger versions of Matilda. Here is Caitlin Fein (one of the toddler Matildas) now:

And here is Mara Wilson now:

Good work, C.S.A.

#RIPMrsPhelpsTheLibrarian

Do you guys ever watch movies from the 90s and see an old person and think, ‘He/she is probs dead.’ Then feel really sad because it’s true? (This actress died in 2000).

Likewise, anyone who was a small child is now an adult. Obviously we know that Mara Wilson has always been roughly our age, but baby Matilda? You saw how old she is.

Harry Wormwood Is The Worst

“Listen, you little wiseacre: I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Harry Wormwood, the worst

Dark Matilda

You know, if this movie was cut differently, it could easily be a prequel to The Orphan or basically any horror movie which features a little girl as the demon. OH LOOK SOMEONE’S DONE THAT ALREADY. LIKE, MULTIPLE TIMES.

Plus, taking the magical powers out of it, even if you’re the loveliest teacher ever you don’t just get to KEEP THE KID THAT YOU LIKE. This movie definitely demands a dark recut.

Also Lissy Doll is a dead ringer for Matilda which is very Are You Afraid Of The Dark, if you ask me.

Michael Wormwood Is Dudley Dursely

And Matilda’s parents are Vernon and Petunia. Miss Honey is Dumbledore, but also Hagrid and Sirius.

Matilda is probably a Gryffindor but you can make an argument for Ravenclaw. Lavender is a Hufflepuff. I think Miss Honey has some Hufflepuff traits but she’s mainly brave, so Gryffindor.

Do We Think It’s Weird That This Is Set In The USA?

Roald Dahl is such a beloved British treasure that it feels kind of odd that this is set in the USA. I’m not exactly complaining because this movie is so perfect that I wouldn’t wish away any of it. I bet if this movie were made today there would be a big outcry about exporting it to the US and it would have been set in the UK instead.

To translate Crunchem School to the US system they had to create this weird public school that’s sort of like a bizarre private school. It all contributes to the storybook quality of the movie, so it’s fine.

Romper Room

I know what rompers are in modern fashion parlance but I always imagine those baggy calico overalls that Pigtail Amanda wears.

“You Chose Books, I Chose Looks”

Mrs. Wormwood’s taunt reminds me of something a snotty girl would have said in second grade. Also joke’s on her, Miss Honey is a fox and everybody knows it.

Cake By The Pound

“It’s hard for me to remember a specific cake.” Bruce Bogtrotter spittin the truth

I continue to think that chocolate cake looks like the best chocolate cake ever made (apparently the actor who played Bruce didn’t really like cake much, and Danny had his baker friend create a Magnolia Bakery-esque cake for the scene).

“I can’t look, is he going to puke?” – little Lavender’s delivery of this line is one of the best things in the whole movie, and that’s saying something.

Truncuhbull’s Not Wrong

Mrs. D. Mrs. I.
Mrs. F. F. I.
Mrs. C. Mrs. U.
Mrs. L. T. Y.

…why are all these women married?

This Score Is Perfect

Whether it’s the suspenseful music when they’re in Truncuhbull’s (ahem.. rightfully Miss Honey’s) House or the jaunty tune when Bruce is gorging on cake, this is a masterpiece and we’re retroactively annoyed about the missing Oscar. Did you ever notice that 90s kids’ movies, like Matilda, Home Alone, and The Parent Trap, had phenomenal scores, like filmmakers realized children could appreciate good things?

By the way, if you loved a movie in the 90s there’s an excellent chance David Newman was responsible for the score.

The 1972 Olympics

Trunchbull competed in the 1972 Olympics. This film was released in 1996. Ergo, the 2016 equivalent would be a principal who competed in the 1992 Olympics, which I can sort-of remember. Woof.

By the by, Trunchbull’s build is sort of a take on those poor East German athletes who were forced to take a lot of hormones, I think.

PeeWee Herman

… is in this??? I’m honestly not even including this as a thing you probably don’t know about Matilda. I’m just shocked I never noticed this.

Danny DeVito Is A Prince

You know the too-cute scene where Matilda dances around to Little Bitty Pretty One making objects move? In the behind the scenes footage, DeVito explains that Mara was a little nervous about doing that scene. He said “you know why? Because you’re the only one dancing” and made everyone on set – down to craft services – dance. I did some acting as a kid and a lot of adults just didn’t understand how kids think, but it seems like DeVito GOT IT and created a set that was every bit as magical as the movie.

I Don’t Think You’re Ready…

“Absolutely not, Molly” – My mother, Aisle 12 of Wegmans, 1995.

The Wormwoods have that peanut butter and jelly that is all swirled together in one jar and seriously they WOULD.

I Have Another Oscar Complaint

I want there to be a category for extras and bit players and I want it retroactively awarded to the children in Matilda’s class during the Trunchbull revenge scene.

We don’t need to talk about the special effects during that scene. They were doing their best.

Send Me On My Way

The closing scene is so perfect there’s nothing to say about it, so we’re just going to send you on your way.

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Where Are They Now: All The Matildas

When Roald Dahl first introduced Matilda to the world in 1988, he probably never thought about just how long the legacy would last, and in so many different mediums. An imagination as great as Matilda Wormwood herself could have never dreamed that kids and adults all over the world would be in love with this character and her world through a beloved movie and a hit musical that are popular all over the world. Moreover, Roald Dahl probably would have never guessed just how many times his cherished Matilda would be brought to life by actors for years to come. Over the past 28 years, Matilda has been played by a number of girls in various adaptations, and here’s a look at those talented Wormwoods and where they are now.

Matilda – Musical, 1990

Annabelle Lanyon

Annabelle Lanyon was a child actress who is best known for playing Dora Keith in the British mini-series of Anne of Avonlea, as pictured here. But in 1990, when she was 29, she starred as Matilda in the first musical adaptation of the book. I couldn’t find pix of her in the production, but since she’s supposed to be like 7, I figured this photo would suffice. Anyways, the musical featured music and lyrics by Ken Howard and Alan Blaiklev and toured theaters around the UK. Reviews were mixed and unfortunately lost in the public’s conscious forever. Annabelle quit acting in 1992, but returned in 2000 and is currently filming two movies.

Matilda – Movie, 1996

Mara Wilson

Mara Wilson is probably the best known actress for playing little Matilda, thanks to the movie we’ve been talking about all week. By the time she filmed Matilda, Mara already had Mrs. Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street under her belt, but her mother died of breast cancer while they were filming Matilda. This life-changing event made her lose her passion for acting, and has only been in front of the camera several times ever since. She graduated from NYU in 2009, and is v active on the Interwebz with Twitter and podcasts (Welcome to Night Vale) etc. Just this week, on Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, she released an autobiography called Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame.

Matilda – Radio Programme, 2009

Lauren Mote

BBC Radio 4, being super British, featured a dramatized version of Matilda for a classic serial as part of the BBC Christmas season. Voice actress Lauren Mote, who was 12 at the time, took on the lead in the two-part series, which you can maybe eventually watch on their website.

Matilda – Musical, 2010

The Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned a second musical adaptation of the book and found much better success thanks in part to a book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. It premiered in the West End in 2011 and ended up winning seven Olivier Awards, including Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical for Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull (yes, you read that right) and a tie between all four tiny Matildas for Best Actress in a Musical. The show opened on Broadway in 2013 and found similar success at the Tonys, winning four trophies and a special prize for all four tiny Matildas for Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre. Since then, there have been tours in both the US and Australia, and a production in Toronto which opened in July. But for those looking to see the show on Broadway, you only have a few months left – the production is closing on January 1st.

West End
Cleo Demetriou

Before Matilda, Cleo appeared in productions of The Sound of Music (Gretl, duh), the ENRON musical and Les Mis (Young Cosette, duh). She is now 15 (and a legit teen, per Instagram), and stars in a British sitcom called So Awkward.

Kerry Ingram

Kerry’s only theatre expereience before Matilda was in a West End revival of Oliver!, but her career only got bigger after starring in Matilda by scoring roles in hit TV shows like Wolf Hall and British medical soap (think Grey’s) Doctors. But you may know her as Shireen Baratheon in Game of Thrones, a show we definitely are huge fans of and understand completely.

Sophia Kiely

Sophia’s only professional credit to date is Matilda, and it seems she stepped out of the spotlight after taking her final bow. So much so that she doesn’t have any social media accounts (that I can easily Google). The only thing we know for sure is that she is four years older than when she played Matilda.

Eleanor Worthington Cox

Eleanor continues to work on the stage, appearing in London productions of To Kill A Mockingbird, Bugsy Malone and Tomcat. On British TV she’s starred in shows like Cucumber, Hetty Feather, and The Enfield Haunting, which earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the British Academy Television Awards.

Broadway
Sophia Gennusa

After Matilda, Sophia was back on Broadway last year in the musical adaptation of Doctor Zhivago – which only lasted three weeks. But her greatest accomplishment yet – being the singer for the current Sesame Street theme song.

Oona Laurence

Prior to Matilda, Oona played “Spiteful Mean Girl #4” on Louie, but she may be the most successful Matilda yet. After leaving the show, she booked roles on Law & Order: SVU, Blindspot, and Orange Is The New Black, playing 10-year-old Tiffany aka Pennsatucky in a flashback. Over the past year, she has worked with stars like Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back), Janeane Garofalo (Little Boxes), Robert Redford (Pete’s Dragon), Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw) and Mila Kunis (Bad Moms). So yeah, she’s doin OK.

Bailey Ryon

Bailey starred in other notable family faves before Matilda, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. These days, she is focusing on her career as a dancer, and performs with hte Susquehanna Youth Ballet in Pennsylvania.

Milly Shapiro

Matilda still stands as Milly’s lone professional credit, but she and her sister Abigail are hoping to be the next Lennon and Maisy by posting performances on YouTube. Check them out singing Defying Gravity at 54 Below.

Matilda Is Our Aesthetic

It’s always difficult turning a beloved book into a big screen movie. Not only do you have to do justice to the original author and their work, but it’s equally important to not completely screw up a story that millions of readers have come to love. The very magic of books is that you get to use your imagination to create your own version of the world that the author presents to you, and not everyone will have the same exact vision in their heads (see: Hermione). So when it comes to adapting novels into movies, there’s a fine line between disaster and huge success.

Luckily, we think the film version of Matilda falls into the latter category, and presented us with a magical world that was still grounded in reality, and appealed to us both as 10 years olds and 30 year olds rewatching the film in present day (PS: it’s Molly’s 30th birthday TODAY!). Here are some of our favorite aesthetics from the outstanding adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic that lived up to the images in our head, and in some cases, even surpassed them.

TBH, the entire pancake scene is our aesthetic, but I love this little touch Matilda adds when she sits down to eat breakfast by herself. I’ve never even done this and I am an “adult”.

Despite Wormwood Motors being a complete sham, I love how many colors the production designer and director Danny DeVito incorporated into this look. It actually seems like a reputable business, which is exactly what Mr. Wormwood wants you to think.

I was never one to make headbands out of satin ribbon, but I always admired those who did. This tells us a couple things about Matilda: she learned how to do this herself, because her mom certainly wasn’t going to teach her. And second, she’s the type of kid who takes pleasure in taking her time. A lot of people wouldn’t spend the extra minute to perfect their hair accessory, but Matilda appreciates even the smallest things in life, something we can all aspire to do.

Because who doesn’t love a good solo dance party? This is why you have superpowers. For this alone.

Just kidding. Also use superpowers to have desserts come directly to your person.

I know the phrase iconic gets tossed around a lot but the blue peter pan collar dress with the red ribbon was iconic, no? A moment of appreciation for the costume designers: although some of the kids’ outfits look 90s in a GOOD way, they mostly stuck to a classic template that makes Matilda fresh and watchable 20 years later. I’d still dress a kid like this.

JENNIFER. HONEY. We talked a bit about her aesthetic here but the main thing is, again, the wardrobe department’s choice of classic designs. Also these glasses. All day long, these glasses.

The end of the movie where Matilda lives with Miss Honey and they both have a family and they’re all dressed down in their straw hats and overalls? And Send Me On My Way plays? And everything is going to be light and happy for them from now on? Is also our aesthetic. When I watch the movie as an adult, the last scenes always make me think of how Matilda’s life would be after moving in with Miss Honey – how awesome her high school years would be with a supportive parent to help her explore learning, and Matilda going back home during college breaks and having talks with Miss Honey as adults, and now-30-year-old Matilda doing whatever amazing things she’s doing, but always going home to catch up and opening her mail to find just-because cards from Miss Honey with, like, $5 in them.

Two reasons to have Matilda carry her books home in a wagon: (1) She had a LOT of books; (2) Children pulling wagons behind them is ADORABLE.

PS, Matilda has cute shoes.

Lavender (Kiami Davael) might be one of the cutest children ever but let’s take a moment to appreciate her very on-trend-for-2016 braided hairdo and also how darling children in glasses are. If I have children I hope they can’t see very well, because this is precious (JK if I have children I hope they can see well).

The tiny, tidy cottage with the wildflowers actually looks more appealing than the Trunchbull Mansion they move into at the end.

Some of the timeless appeal of Matilda’s set design is actually because it’s dated: this isn’t a 90s living room, it’s a pastiche of 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s middle-class garishness. Those people who replace the siding on their porch with shiny stone and their wooden banisters with elaborate wrought iron? That’s the Wormwoods.

We are nerds who truly enjoyed the beginning of school because that meant new school supplies. Matilda had a composition notebook ready to go before her dad even told her she was going to school for the first time. This is our kind of gal.

Lit’rally me:

 

 

Miss Honey Is Wonderful

We want to welcome you all to Matilda Week, and nobody is more welcoming than Miss Jennifer Honey. As children we adored this kind-hearted teacher who recognized each child as a full, complex and important person. As adults, we are even more touched by Miss Honey as a survivor of a traumatic childhood who keeps her soft heart after years of abuse. She is a lesson in tenacity, warmth and loveliness. Miss Honey is wonderful.

Miss Honey Is Kind And Soft
Miss Honey: so softspoken, she sits to speak to the class.

Miss Honey: so softspoken, she sits to speak to the class.

 

Fact: I adored my third grade teacher Ms. Cuthbert so much that when she invited her students to go to her wedding ceremony, I actually showed up. I sat near the back of the church with my parents and saw my teacher become Mrs. Hibbard. I watched in awe as one of my favorite teachers walked down the aisle in a gorgeous, puffy, 1993 gown, and wasn’t embarrassed at all to be there. Mrs. Hibbard was delightful, fun, and kind, but strict when she needed to be, and that’s exactly what you want in a teacher, and a teacher who will impact your life forever.

That’s what Miss Honey is. She truly cares about her kids as if they were her own, when she definitely doesn’t have to, especially given the environment of Crunchem Hall. She is so invested in her students and makes sure they are actually learning not only what was in their textbooks but about life itself. And she does it in a way that makes you feel like she’s more of an older sister, rather than an authoritative figure, making you more prone to listen and heed her instructions. She’s the kind of person that gave so much of herself to her class that she, too, would invite you to her wedding, and would give you a wink as she passed you while walking down the aisle.

Miss Honey Is Lovely

One day this summer I woke up from a dead sleep, thought “Miss Honey is my summer style inspiration,” wrote it down and went back to bed. I was right to think that. Miss Honey wears classic pastel dresses, understated makeup and has a non-dated hairstyle. Miss Honey is the teacher who keeps a tissue under her watch and that is so wonderfully specific. At one point in the movie she wears the best tortoiseshell glasses, although Book Miss Honey wears them all the time. Dahl never gets detailed about Miss Honey’s wardrobe, but I think the movie nailed it: she’s the kind of person who looks lovely first because it makes her happy to look nice, and second so that the children see that coming to school and teaching them matters to her.  Miss Honey has a “lovely pale oval madonna face with blue eyes and her hair was light brown.” It’s not so much important that she’s objectively pretty, but that the kids think she is — don’t you remember being 5 or 6 and thinking your favorite teacher was just the prettiest person in the world?

During the blog meeting where we discussed Matilda Week, we watched a clip of toddler Matilda making her own breakfast and pouring a glass of juice. Then they got to the moment when Matilda places a tiny flower in a vase and I think a scientist could have pinpointed the exact moment when both of our hearts broke (that’s what scientists do, right?). There was something so poignant about this little forgotten child not just surviving without help, but also making space for the little things that make life beautiful. I feel the same way when you learn about Miss Honey’s cottage: she has less than she deserves, but the lengths she goes to to make it neat and pleasant tell you a lot about her character.

Miss Honey’s house is “like an illustration in Grimm or Hans Anderson.” It is incredibly tiny and the water comes from a well outside. There are overturned boxes for chairs and a little camping stove to cook on. I used to imagine it would be like living in a child’s play fort. The cottage is less bleak in the movie, but both versions show that Miss Honey knows how important it is to find bits of loveliness in an ugly world. She also decorates her classroom with students’ artwork and bright colors, even though she has to hide it when the Trunchbull comes into the room – it’s that important for her class to be surrounded by loveliness.

More about Miss Honey's cottage here.

More about Miss Honey’s cottage here.

Miss Honey Treats People Like They’re Important

When I was 8 years old, I read Matilda and wanted to be the main character. Not so much levitating objects, I just felt positive that I was special and there was simply no Miss Honey to notice it. I devoured adult classics like Matilda did, but in hindsight I was, admittedly, ordinary. Except, of course, no child, no person, is ordinary. Miss Honey knew that intuitively and it influenced the way she treated every child in her classroom. If you look back and think of your very best teachers as a child (or your favorite babysitter or aunt or librarian), that is probably a quality they had: they looked you in the eye and saw a light that might not have been brighter or more beautiful than anybody else’s, but it was yours. Miss Honey notices that Matilda is unusually intelligent almost instantly. But she isn’t that teacher who only cares about the smartest or the most challenging pupils. Miss Honey writes easy words on the board for the more “average” kids and warns the whole class about the upcoming weekly test with Trunchbull. As they say in the movie, she “appreciates each child for who he or she is.” Miss Honey recognizes Matilda’s strengths not just as supernatural abilities, but as character traits that will help her throughout life: “It’s wonderful you feel so powerful. Many people don’t feel powerful at all.”

 

Miss Honey Is Stronger Than Her Past

Miss Honey is a survivor of trauma and lifelong abuse, and against the odds, she is much bigger than the worst things that have happened to her. After the deaths of her parents, Miss Honey lives under the control of her cruel aunt – the Trunchbull. It’s chilling how perfectly Dahl describes the invisible chains of an abusive relationship: “I became so scared of her I used to start shaking when she came into the room.” “Over the years I became so cowed and dominated by this monster of an aunt that when she gave an order, no matter what it was, I obeyed it instantly.” “I was by then so dominated by my aunt to such an extent that I wouldn’t have dared [leave.]. You can’t imagine what it’s like to be completely controlled like that by a very strong personality.”

Here’s where I get amazed. Miss Honey wanted to go to university and was only allowed to go on the condition that she come home early every day to work for her aunt. When she graduated, Trunchbill docked her pay because Miss Honey “owed” her for the expenses of her childhood. Miss Honey finds a house and rents it on 10p a week and leaves, while still working in her aunt’s school because she loves to teach. Her past makes Miss Honey’s smaller moments of bravery, like confronting Trunchbull about Matilda’s grade level or approaching Matilda’s parents, nothing less than astonishing. It frames all of her qualities – kindness, appreciation of beauty, empathy for her students – not as traits, but as CHOICES that she has made and worked for and cultivated. Most of us aren’t born with extraordinary gifts like Matilda, but the idea that anybody can live a life of kindness and beauty after surviving such darkness — that is the real magic in Matilda.