As a child, I watched many family/children's films. Many of said films ranged from great to awful, with many being simply too mediocre to remember in my adulthood. Matilda is one of those movies that actually helped construct my childhood and transform me into who I am as a human being.
I admit to having not read Roald Dahl's novel, though I plan to. While I can't judge this as an adaptation, I can honestly say Matilda is an incredibly well-made film that gives off its own unique cinematic aura thanks to the brilliant, wonderful director Danny DeVito. Like many of his other films, DeVito gives Matilda a fresh coat of surreality, slightly twisted imagery contrasted with the lighthearted, and unique camera angles to translate Dahl's story through a fresh lens. DeVito marries lightness and darkness in a union blessed by the gods.
The film's star, Mara Wilson, delivers such an awesome performance as Matilda, giving us a protagonist who is gifted and special in so many ways, but is born into a family who refuses to recognize and appreciate her gifts. Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman portray her parents, who are so exaggeratedly horrible but ironically to the point where they're not completely unlikable. Their personalities are so over the top you can't help but laugh at them. The same can be said about Tracey Walter and Paul Reubens (yes, THE Paul Reubens) as the two FBI agents trailing Matilda's corrupt father, as well as Pam Ferris as The Trunchbull, a villain so ridiculously over the top that immediately warrants laughter. Inversely, we have a bastion of hope, love and sweetness in the appropriately named Miss Honey, played by the inimitable Embeth Davidtz, who delivers all the nurture and attention Matilda so desperately lacks in every other aspect of her life.
I've seen Matilda over 25 times throughout my life, and I want to double that. It's such a beautiful, awe-inspiring masterpiece and if I ever get a chance to meet or work with Danny DeVito, I want to personally thank him for helping create the identity of my childhood.