- Nate Adams
'Matilda: The Musical' review: Revolting children sing their hearts out in winning adaptation
Courtesy of Sony/Netflix
Beloved children’s novels getting turned into cinematic musicals isn’t groundbreaking, but few capture the charm, wit, and spunky attitude of its source material better than Matthew Warchus’ “Matilda: The Musical.” For those who never saw the production live, the Netflix original movie is a solid introduction and/or gateway into this engaging world that turns childhood trauma into uplifting and inspiring tunes. Roald Dahl wasn’t known for his subtly, often interweaving dark and depressing themes into his works to teach young children about the unpredictability life can throw at them, but in “Matilda: The Musical,” there’s a feeling of hope that becomes amplified by a symphony of talented actors who, collectively, have the pipes to bring Tim Minchin’s songs to life. Particularly the show-stopping “Revolting Children,” which goes about as hard, fast, and loose as any musical number you’ll see all year.
And the rest of the song rooster is solid. The film opens with a catchy tune called “Miracle” that takes place before the opening credits inside a maternity ward. Parents are embracing their newborns, ecstatic about the possibilities that lie ahead, except the parents of Matilda, who are disappointed they’re now stuck with a girl. Fast forward a few years and Matilda (played exceptionally by newcomer Alisha Weir) is a gifted child with a knack for complex storytelling, mathematics and reading dozens of sizable novels every week. Her parents, played by Stephen Graham and Andrew Riseborough, are nitwits unphased by their daughter’s exceptional accomplishments.
This leads to another terrific song called “Naughty” where Matilda sneaks out of her room and plays a prank on her father. It not only shows the characters resourcefulness, but that she won’t let a bully bring her down. That’s a good resolve to have considering the headmistress of her new academic institution, a vile monster named Agatha Trunchbull (played under heavy makeup and prosthetics by a great Emma Thompson) is the biggest foe she’ll face. Though the appearance and dialogue of Trunchbull is humorous, she’s also a major threat to the children’s physical safety.
But it gives the kids a common enemy and worthy battle cries for their efforts to overthrow her reign. And that’s where “Matilda: The Musical” thrives; by steering the focus away from the adults (one of the major detours from the musical-to-movie-pipeline is several songs have been cut, including solos from Matilda’s parents and she doesn’t have a brother) and instead puts more emphasis on the kids, however, Lashana Lynch brings warmth, and powerhouse vocals, as Miss Honey, Matilda’s teacher who sees the youngster for the gifted miracle she is.
These are wise omissions that keep “Matilda: The Musical” from going above the two-hour marker (the Broadway musical clocks almost three hours) and maintain a steady flow. It helps Weir, in her acting debut, is easy to root for. She’s got a wonderful voice and solid presence opposite these heavy hitters, especially Thompson who almost shatters the heavens with her rendition of Trunchbull’s signature song: “The Hammer.” But it all comes back to “Revolting Children,” and seeing this young ensemble leave it all on the screen in one of the more densely choreographed displays of the year, helping this adaptation stand out from the pack.
MATILDA: THE MUSICAL debuts on Netflix Christmas Day.