Matilda was adapted into a 1996 fantasy-comedy film. The film was directed by Danny DeVito, who also produced, narrated, and starred in the movie.
Wilson's mother passed away during the production of the film. Wilson honored her mother by finishing the movie. DeVito showed her the final cut of the movie prior to her death.
Matilda Wormwood is an intelligent girl with a bright personality, but her parents, Harry and Zinnia, and older brother Michael, neglect and mistreat her. When Matilda reaches four, she discovers the local library and walks there every day to read books while her father is at work, her mother is playing Bingo, and Michael is at school.
By age six-and-a-half, Matilda begins to lose patience with her parents, expressing a desire to go to school. But her parents don’t believe what age she is and decide she is 5. In retaliation for Harry's constant berating, she mixes his hair tonic with hydrogen perroxide, and then glues his hat to his head upon discovering his shady car business. When Harry forces Matilda to watch TV after destroying a library copy of a book called Moby Dick (which he found offensive because of the title), Matilda gets extremely angry which causes the TV to explode.
After selling a car to former olympian and athlete Agatha Trunchbull, the tyrannical headmistress of a run-down school, Crunchem Hall, Harry enrolls Matilda in the school, where she befriends several children and learns of Miss Trunchbull's nature and her harsh punishments of the students. Matilda's teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, is a kind woman who adores her pupils and takes an immediate liking to Matilda. Miss Honey speaks with Trunchbull and requests that Matilda be moved up to a higher class, but Trunchbull declines. Miss Honey pays Matilda's parents a visit and requests that they pay more attention to their daughter, but they refuse to listen.
Calling all the students to a special assembly, Trunchbull devises a public punishment for a boy called Bruce Bogtrotter who had allegedly stolen her cake from the school kitchen. Trunchbull forces him to eat an enormous cake in one sitting, and is furious when he manages to succeed without getting sick. She gives the whole student body a five-hour detention for cheering him on. Matilda then discovers that her family is under FBI surveillance because of her father's shady dealings, but her parents refuse to believe her, as Zinnia believes they are speedboat salesmen.
Sometime later, Trunchbull throws Matilda in the Chokey after her car starts breaking down, then goes to Miss Honey's class for a weekly "check-up" and starts to belittle the students. As a prank, Lavender places a newt in Trunchbull's water jug to frighten her. Trunchbull accuses Matilda, whose anger at the injustice leads to her telekinetically tipping the glass over, splashing water on Trunchbull, who then goes berserk.
Matilda and Miss Honey soon form a bond, and Matilda is invited over for tea after school at Miss Honey's cottage. On the way, they pass the house of Trunchbull wherein tells Matilda the story of her childhood: when she lived in the house currently owned by Trunchbull, she lost her mother when she was two, so her father invited his wife's stepsister, Trunchbull, to look after the house and his daughter. Miss Trunchbull abused her at every opportunity. A few years later, Miss Honey's father mysteriously died, and his death was ruled a suicide.
Miss Honey walks Matilda home, and they pass Trunchbull's house once again. After seeing Trunchbull leave after being terrified by a black cat, Matilda suggests they go in and retrieve Miss Honey's beloved childhood doll, which Miss Honey reluctantly complies. They explore the house briefly, with Miss Honey experiencing nostalgia from her childhood, but are terrified when they hear Miss Truchbull re-enter. They overhear her threatening Matilda's father with a lawsuit for selling her a broken car, wherein she senses something awry. Matilda and Miss Honey desperately evade Truchbull as she tears through the hallways searching for the intruders, and escape from the house just in time. Out of breath and terrified, Miss Honey makes Matilda promise to never enter the house again.
When Matilda's telekinetic powers manifest again during an argument, she trains herself to use her ability at her own will. On a windy night, Matilda returns to Trunchbull's house and uses her powers to change the time on Trunchbull's clock, open the windows, play with a power line which turns the lights on and off, burn her portrait, and replace it with Magnus'. Convinced that her house is haunted, a terrified Trunchbull almost flees, but she finds Matilda's hair ribbon and realizes that she was there.
The next day, Trunchbull visits Miss Honey's class again to get Matilda to admit her guilt, when Matilda magically levitates a piece of chalk to write a message on the blackboard, posing as the ghost of Magnus, accusing her of murdering him, and demanding she leaves after giving his daughter back her house and money, warning that failure will result in her death. Trunchbull attacks the students, but Matilda keeps them out of harm's way with her powers, and together all the students force Trunchbull out of the school permanently. Miss Honey then moves back into her father's house.
The FBI finally uncovers enough evidence to prosecute Harry, and he and his family prepare to flee to Guam. They stop by Miss Honey's house to pick up Matilda, Zinnia explaining that they're going on "a sort of permanent vacation", but Matilda refuses to go with them. In that moment, Zinnia laments on her guilt and regret in not understanding Matilda better. She and Harry sign the adoption papers that would allow Miss Honey to adopt Matilda. The family leaves, and the film ends with Matilda and Miss Honey having fun in the house; and Miss Honey becomes the new principal at Crunchem Hall.
- Mara Wilson as Matilda Wormwood
- Alissa and Amanda Graham, Trevor Gallagher and James Gallagher as Matilda - newborn
- Danny DeVito as Harry Wormwood and the Narrator
- Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood
- Embeth Davidtz as Miss Jennifer Honey
- Pam Ferris as Agatha Trunchbull
- Brian Levinson as Michael Wormwood
- Nicholas Cox - 6 years
- Paul Reubens as FBI Agent Bob
- Tracy Walter as FBI Agent Bill
- Kiami Davael as Lavender
- Jacqueline Steiger as Amanda Thripp
- Kira Spencer as Hortensia
- Jimmy Karz as Bruce Bogtrotter
- Jean Speegle Howard as Mrs. Phelps
- Marion Dugan as Cookie
- Emily Eby as Maggie
- Craig Lamar Traylor as Child in Classroom
- Jon Lovitz as Mickey on The Million Dollar Sticky
Book and film differences
|Setting||Set in the United Kingdom||Set in Los Angeles, CA., USA|
|Nationalities||The Wormwoods are British and so are the other characters||The Wormwoods are Americans just like the many other characters||Trunchbull is the only British character in the film|
|Mrs. Wormwood's first name||Not specified||Zinnia Wormwood|
|Michael Wormwood||Michael Wormwood is a normal boy||Michael Wormwood is a bully|
|Wormwood couple's appearances||Harry Wormwood is thin and tall while Mrs. Wormwood is overweight||The appearances are swapped|
|Mr. Wormwood's car||Mercedes Benz (not specified model) - black sedan with 4 doors||Ford LTD Crown Victoria - green station wagon with 5 doors|
|Pranks Matilda played to the family||Matilda played three pranks||Only two pranks are played||The chimney parrot prank was eliminated out of respect for animal cruelty laws|
|Restaurant||The Wormwoods don't go to a restaurant||The Wormwoods go to a restaurant|
|Book defaced by Harry and reasons for his actions||"The Red Pony", because American authors are morally bankrupt.||Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" for unknown reasons; possibly because the title was offending.|
|Crunchem Hall||Private school in England||Public elementary school.||Even if the film is Americanized, Crunchem Hall retains an oddly British feel by being a fairly old, dour-looking building rather than the newer building more typical of American schools in media, as well as maintaining much of the same structure as a traditional British school.|
|Matilda's Friendship||While Matilda and Lavender are friends in the novel, Matilda has no direct interaction with Bruce Bogtrotter and Amanda Thripp.||It is implied that there is a friendship between Matilda, Lavender, Hortensia, Bruce Bogtrotter and Amanda Thripp.|
|Hortensia||Has a boil on her nose, eats potato chips, and bullies Matilda and Lavender in their only encounter.||She does not have a boil on her nose, is never eating potato chips, and is friendly to Lavender and Matilda. It is also from the film's Hortensia that Matilda learns of Trunchbull's cruel punishments like the boy thrown out of the window for eating during class and the Chokey.|
|Julius Rotwinkle (boy thrown out of the window)||Ate licorice allsorts during a Scriptures class (Bible Study)||Ate two M&Ms during a literature class|
|Lavender Brown||“skinny little nymph”||African American||Changed to African American in order to show America’s diversity.|
|Amanda Thripp's incident with Trunchbull||Amanda lands on the grass, bounces three times and then gets up to return to the playground.||Miss Trunchbull throws Amanda Thripp by the pigtails into a pile of flowers which she scoops up and brings to Miss Honey.|
|The Chokey||Only described.||Described by Hortensia and how none of the schoolchildren's parents believed in their stories|
|Matilda in the Chokey||Character is placed by Trunchbull and Miss Honey rescues her|
|Multiplication||Miss Honey asks the class if they know their multiplication tables, Matilda is the only one to raise her hand||The whole class knows multiplication|
|Bruce Bogtrotter's giant cake||Trunchbull storms off after furiously ordering all the students to leave the assembly hall.||Trunchbull gives the entire student body a five-hour after-school detention to copy from the dictionary with threats to put all who object into the chokey at once (which results in everyone going home at night)||Trunchbull breaks the China platter on his head|
|Trunchbull's house||Matilda never goes into the Trunchbull's house.||Matilda breaks into the Trunchbull's home twice.|
|Miss Honey's nickname||Jenny||"my little bumblebee"|
|Breaking into the Trunchbull's home||Does not occur||Miss Honey and Matilda enter Miss Trunchbull's home to try and retrieve a doll from Miss Honey's childhood. They are, however, unsuccessful. Matilda then returns once again on her own to retrieve the doll and frighten Miss Trunchbull into believing the ghost of Miss Honey's father haunts her house, but accidentally leaves a hair ribbon behind. Miss Trunchbull finds the ribbon and then confronts Matilda about it in the classroom.|
|Trunchbull's lawsuit||Does not take place||Trunchbull threatens to sue Mr. Wormwood for selling her a defective car in the movie version.|
|The message on the chalkboard||The message initially angers Miss Trunchbull, but she then becomes scared when she sees it's from Magnus, Miss Honey's late father and faints. Her body is carried out from the classroom and she disappears for good.||Read "Agatha, this is Magnus. Give my little bumblebee her house and her money. Then get out of town. If you don’t, I will get you. I will get you like you got me. That is a promise."||Trunchbull also returns Miss Honey's inheritance.|
|Magical attack on Trunchbull||Does not happen||Matilda magically tortures Trunchbull by making erasers hit her, causing a boy thrown by Trunchbull to fly back in and toss her to a globe which is magically spun and then having her crash through the door.|
|Food fight||Not in the book||Matilda organizes a food fight to force Trunchbull out of the school. Bruce Bogtrotter and other students see this, and the latter encourages them to follow suit.|
|Crunchem Hall's new principal||Mr. Trilby||Miss Honey|
|Wormwood's crimes of stolen cars and fraudulent businesses||Only mentioned at the end||Takes a more prominent role. The FBI stakes-out the home, and interacts with the family because they believe Mr. Wormwood has been dealing stolen car parts.|
|Authorities chasing out the Wormwoods||Police||FBI|
|Matilda's family flees to||Spain||Guam|
|Bidding farewell||Michael is the only one that cared to bid farewell to his sister||Zinnia is concerned for her and she asked for a pen to sign the adoption papers.|
|Matilda's powers||loses them||Retained but used them to help Miss Honey in her tasks.|
Awards and nominations
- YoungStar Award
- Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Comedy Film - Mara Wilson
- Cinekid Lion Audience Award
- Best Director - Danny DeVito
- Oulu International Children's Film Festival Starboy Award
- Best Director - Danny DeVito
- Satellite Awards
- Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical (Danny DeVito)
- Young Artist Award
The film was submitted for an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, but wasn't nominated.
Three songs are featured in the movie. One of them, "Send Me On My Way" by Rusted Root, is played twice: when the four-year-old Matilda is left alone at her house, making pancakes, and at the end of the film, set to a montage of Matilda and Miss Honey playing at Miss Trunchbull's former house. The other song is Thurston Harris's "Little Bitty Pretty One", played when Matilda is learning to control her psychokinetic powers.
The film's original score was composed by David Newman.
Matilda recieved critical acclaim at the time of its release. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a "fresh" rating of 90%. In the United States, the film earned $33 million in contrast to its $36 million budget. It fared better during its worldwide release and ended up earning back nearly double its original budget as well as on home video and television.
Home media release
In 2013, Mara Wilson and her former co-stars from "Matilda" had a reunion to celebrate the movie's 17th anniversary and "Matilda" being released on Blu-ray. The reunion scene was featured on the Blu-ray of "Matilda".
- Mara Wilson's mom Suzie Shapiro Wilson died from breast cancer while the movie was being filmed. Mara honored her mom by bravely finishing "Matilda". "Matilda" was dedicated to Suzie's memory.
- In August 2013 and 2020, two sequels titled Matilda's Simple Wish and Matilda 2: Revenge of the Trunchbull were released respectively.
- In the "Making Of" segment on the DVD, Danny DeVito reveals that for the chalk to write by itself, they wrote the letters backwards on the opposite side of the chalkboard, then put a magnet on the chalk. They then had someone stand behind the chalkboard and write the words backwards with a device that attracted magnets.
- Pam Ferris would often stay in character when the director called cut in an attempt to actually scare the children on set, so that their fear would be genuine when the camera was rolling.
- The picture of Miss Honey's father, Magnus, is actually a portrait of Roald Dahl, the author of the book "Matilda," upon which the film is based.
- As a child, Miss Honey had a doll named Lissy Doll. One of the producers of the film is author Roald Dahl's widow, Liccy Dahl.
- Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman were married in real life (and parents in real life, but not to any of the children playing Michael or Matilda) when the movie is being made.
- Matilda, when describing her love of Charles Dickens to Miss Honey, accidentally mispronounces his name as "Darles Chickens." This is a nod to another novel by Roald Dahl, "The BFG," in which the title character mispronounces Charles Dickens' name.
- Wormwood, the family name, is also a poisonous plant or "something bitter, grievous, or extremely unpleasant." Wormwood is also the name of the apprentice devil in C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters".
- Mariska Hargitay turned down the role of Miss Honey.
- The credits on the DVD version lists the newt as played by Mr. Speaker, Sir Isaac, and Wayne. This is a reference to Newt Gingrich, the speaker of the US House of Representatives; Sir Isaac Newton, English physicist; and Wayne Newton, the singer.
- One of the lunchboxes reads "Greetings from Aubury Park, New Jersey", a reference to Danny DeVito's hometown. "Greetings from Aubury Park, New Jersey" is also the name of Bruce Springsteen's first album.
- Kylie Tyndall and Keaton Tyndall were originally cast as Young Matilda, but had to be replaced last minute due to high fevers and the flu.
- The car Harry sells to the Trunchbull is a 1970 Buick Electra 225 sedan.
- Richard Donner was considered to direct the film.
- The film features no less than three actors from Tim Burton's Batman films: Danny DeVito, who directs and co-stars, played the Penguin (also known as Oswald Cobblepot) in Batman Returns. Paul Reubens, who plays one of the FBI agents hunting Harry Wormwood, also appears in Batman Returns as the Penguin's father. Tracey Walter, who plays the other FBI agent, played Bob the Goon in the original 1989 Batman film.
- Neat the end of the film, Matilda tells Miss Honey about the speed of a mouse's beating heart. This is a subtle reference to another book by Roald Dahl, The Witches, in which the protagonist and his grandmother have the same discussion.
- The song playing in the car with FBI agents as Matilda passes by is featured in Pee Wee's Playhouse. One of the FBI agents is played by Paul Reubens (who also plays Pee Wee Herman).
- Towards the end of the film, Maltida's parents tell her that they are moving to Guam to escape the FBI. It is actually a small island in the pacific, but is a U.S. Territory.
- The film's official trailer featured music from The Nightmare Before Christmas and Harry Belafonte's "Jump in the Line" which was featured prominently in Beetlejuice.
- This is Mara Wilson's first and only leading role.
- It is stated that Miss Trunchbull competed in the Olympics in shot put, javelin, and hammer throw. According to the jersey she wears in one scene, those were the 1972 Olympics. (However, the hammer throw wasn't added as an Olympic event for women until the year 2000.)
- When the black cat is stalking Miss Trunchbull we hear a meowing sound, but the cat isn't opening its mouth.
- When Matilda grabs the floating tape from the cop's open recorder, the sound of her hand touching the tape and the action of her actually grasping it do not match.
- When Amanda is thrown over the fence, she slides along the ground, and then stands up and shakes herself, but the sound comes seconds later.
- In the assembly hall where Bruce Bogtrotter is walking up to the front of the room Lavender turns to Matilda to say "He lives on my block," Matilda says something in return but there is no sound.
- In the scene where the newt jumps on Miss Trunchbull, you can see the math problems are perfectly written on the chalkboard before Miss Trunchbull backs into the board. When she moves foward, two of the problems are smudged and one is mostly erased. In the next shot, all the problems are intact again.
- We see the chandelier in the foyer of Miss Trunchbull's house fall to the floor in one shot while Miss Trunchbull is chasing our two heroes, but minutes later, it's hung up again.
- Near the end of the film, when Matilda's parents are considering adoption, Zinnia is wearing a gold ring necklace around her neck. Then after she says "Who's got a pen?", the necklace is gone. Then later when they're in the car, the necklace is around her neck again.
- The position of the lid on the chocolate box changes between shots (after it is replaced in a hurry as Trunchbull enters the house).
- When Mr. Wormwood is telling the kids to turn the miles back on the car he tells them to look at the speedometer. The odometer tracks the miles, not the speedometer.
- The icing on Matilda's cake at "The Ritz" jumps about between shots.
- Cafe Le Ritz is supposed to be a French restaurant, and the host greets the Wormwood family "Bonjour", which is French for "Hello". However, the flags shown in the restaurant are Dutch flags, which have the same colored stripes, but horizontal.
- The Trunchbull's cake has two layers in some shots and three layers in others.
- When Matilda arrives at school for the first time, the Trunchbull is coming out of the door. The shadows of the kids walking back emphasizes their fear. In the next shot, the Trunchbull's feet and some kids are shown, thus the ground is fully shadowed.
- After cutting Harry's hat off, Zinnia sits down to watch TV and puts her sunglasses on twice.
- When Matilda is trying to shut the door with her "powers", she is thinking of all the times others mistreated her. During the flashback you see her mother saying "There's something wrong with that girl," while dying her hair and you can see Matilda is in the background. But when the scene happened earlier in the film, Matilda walks away before her mother says it. (This isn't really a mistake, as the memory of a character isn't supposed to be accurate.)
- Right before the scene with the newt and the Trunchbull, Lavender is clearly seen filling the pitcher with water before dumping the entire contents of the jar (including the newt) into the pitcher as well. Later on, the Trunchbull pours herself a glass of water, and apparently empties the pitcher, but the glass is smaller than the jar that originally held the newt.
- When Zinnia is trying to cut the hat off Harry's head, she walks around to cut the hat from behind Harry and places her hand on it, which makes the hat move while it is "still glued on".
- When Harry is gluing the bumper back on the car, in the first shot he smears the glue on. But in the next glue is perfectly even.
- At the beginning of the scene Harry comes home and asks Mike to get a pen and paper to take down his profits for the day. Before they get to the table there is a full shot of the table and no one is sitting at it. A different angle shows Matilda is sitting at the end of the table which was empty a second earlier.
- When Matilda sneaks into her parents' room there is a dark-striped jacket hanging on a clothes tree. After she leaves the room and Mr. Wormwood calls Mike into the room, he lifts the clothes tree, but the jacket now turns into yellow and black hounds-tooth material.
- When Matilda cooks the pancakes, they look burnt. As they lay on the plates (after being cooked), they look fine and light-coloured.
- The position of Miss Honey's hair when she enters Miss Trunchbull's office, suggesting that Matilda takes older or advanced classes change between shots.
- On Matilda's first day of school, in the car and walking through the gates, she is holding a book. When Matilda gets into the playground she is no longer holding it.
- On Matilda's first day of school when the Trunchbull comes out of the doors, Matilda runs to hide in a gap in the walls where she meets Lavender and Hortensia. After she has finished talking to them and the Trunchbull says "fresh meat," Matilda is standing in her original position in the playground so the Trunchbull brushes her aside. She would not have time to move to that position.
- The shadows of the children in the school yard changes size and direction in shots during Miss Trunchbull's first appearance. In one shot, there are no shadows at all, as the children are all in shade.
- While Matilda is dancing in the living room using her powers, her socks change. When she is dancing, it appears that she is wearing white ankle socks (visible 1/4 of seconds). A few seconds later after her dance, when she is sitting on the sofa, she is wearing white regular socks.
- At the beginning of the film, baby Matilda writes her name in the mess she made on the counter. The last "A" gets shorter right after she writes it.
- When Mr. Wormwood takes his kids to the car dealership he stated that the junker in the workshop has 120000 miles on the clock. While they begin turning the dial back the first shot (before they actually adjust it), the odometer (which is incorrectly referred to as a speedometer) reads around 80000 miles.
- As the Wormwood's house between shots after sitting down, Ms. Honey's hair alternates from shadowing her ear to being tucked behind it without her actually moving her hand to make the adjustment.
- When the Trunchbull first walks out of the school building to see the students, the doors close in the overhead shot, then again in the behind shot of the Trunchbull.
- During the chase scene at Miss Trunchbull's house, the chandelier in the foyer falls down twice.
- Chalk "X" on the blackboard changes to a straight line.
- The FBI agent's camcorder opens twice.
- When Matilda first arrives at school, she has a sweater on over her dress, and a school journal on her hand. In the next shot, when Miss Trunchbull comes out, the sweater and the journal are gone. Later, when Matilda is inside the classroom, the sweater is still gone, but the journal reappears. Then when she gets home from school, the sweater is back on.
- The water level in the glass that holds the newt is different.
- When Lavender is levitated, the wires are visible as she descends (pan and scan version).
- At the beginning of the movie, Mrs. Wormwood is shown walking out of the hospital shortly after giving birth to Matilda. In reality, she would've been in a wheelchair, because a woman who had just given birth wouldn't be able to walk for a while.
- At one point in the film, Miss Trunchbull eats one of the candies without removing the wrapper (although this is technically not a mistake, because some people do eat their candy with the wrapper still on), and that trait about Miss Trunchbull only added to her character. (In the original VHS, there is more than one reference to her eating the candy without removing the wrapper.)
- While Matilda intimidates the Trunchbull with her magic powers at her house, she gets the Trunchbull's mantle clock to chime 9, 10, and 12, but not 11. (It is quite likely that Matilda decided to skip 11 and head straight for 12.)
- At the beginning, when the librarian is telling Matilda about the library cards, Matilda responds, "That would be wonderful." This is still four-year-old Matilda, but the voice-over is obviously Mara Wilson — the six-year-old Matilda actress. (This is because of the character aging, as children's voice tones become gradually lower as they age.)
- Before the spoon goes into Matilda's mouth, a rod is seen sticking out of one end, clearly holding it up (full frame only).
- When Matilda levitates the water pitcher to show Miss Honey her powers, the shadow of the water pitcher is still where it should be if it were sitting on the tabletop.
- When Miss Trunchbull puts Matilda in the Chokey, she bumps into one of the nails through the door, and then it shakes like it's rubber.
- When Matilda is levitating the doll out of the window she is sitting on the roof and the shingles are obviously made of some type of soft material because they give way when she is moving about them.
- When Zinnia is coloring her hair, you can see there's no hair dye in the bottle.
- Just after Miss Trunchbull realizes there is someone in her house, she comes over to the foyer area and looks up. At this point Matilda and Miss Honey are looking through the banister, and it is clear Miss Trunchbull is looking directly at them (so they really would have been caught).
- When Miss Trunchbull throws the newt onto a ceiling light, the close-up of it clearly shows it to be made of rubber. But when it falls into a pupil's hands, it's a real newt again.
- At the end of the film, Matilda's family moves to Guam to escape the FBI. However, that wouldn't do much good, since Guam is a U.S. territory, and the FBI has jurisdiction there. (This might not be considered a mistake in some way, since the movie establishes early on that Harry and Zinnia aren't the brightest bulbs in the box, so it is possible they didn't know they'd still get caught; since Matilda never sees them again, she might think they got away, like the narrator says.)