No film genre brings us a genuine sense of nostalgia quite like children’s films. We may no longer believe in magic or plot revenge against our meanest teacher, but these films take us back to a simpler time when our dreams were big and our problems were small.
From the mind of acclaimed British author Roald Dahl, “Matilda” is the story of a remarkable girl who uses her intelligence and telekinetic abilities to punish cruel adults and to find happiness for herself and her friends. The 1996 film of the same name, directed by Danny DeVito, joins the ranks of other favourite Dahl adaptations like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG as a whimsical examination of the underestimated power of children. Though Matilda flopped at the box office, it has gained a cult following and spawned a West End show and Netflix musical remake, revealing our enduring fascination with this feel-good underdog story.
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10. First Day at Crunchem Hall
At six-and-a-half years old, Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson) is more than ready to start school and is delighted when her parents finally send her to Crunchem Hall. However, on her first day, she witnesses headteacher Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) at her very worst. The tyrannical principal marches over to another new girl, Amanda (Jacqueline Steiger), to admonish her for wearing pigtails. When Amanda defends herself, Trunchbull picks her up by her braids and throws her over the wrought-iron fence of the school grounds. This astonishing moment of child abuse would be a horrifying addition to this list of ‘best moments’ if it weren’t for Amanda’s triumphant landing in a field of flowers as her classmates cheer their support.
Early in the film, this scene demonstrates director Danny DeVito’s expressive style that perfectly adapts Dahl’s whimsical hijinks for the big screen. A variety of camera angles brings this moment to life as low-angle shots and tight close-ups make Trunchbull appear powerful and menacing in contrast with Amanda’s small stature, oversized glasses, and rosy coveralls. POV shots also bring us directly into the action with a sense of chaos and urgency as we see Amanda swing around by her pigtails and barely miss the fence spikes. Through Stefan Czapsky’s clever and engaging cinematography, DeVito quickly sets up the conflict between the autocratic principal and Matilda’s supportive, rebellious classmates.
9. ‘It’s a Newt, Miss Trunchbull’
After Miss Trunchbull throws Matilda in the torturous closet nicknamed the ‘chokey,’ her best friend, Lavender (Kiami Davael), plots revenge by slipping a newt into the nasty principal’s water pitcher. The children roar with laughter as Trunchbull is repulsed by the creature in her drink. She blames Matilda and hurls insult after insult at the innocent girl. Suddenly, the water glass tips over and the newt launches onto Trunchbull’s chest, sending the horrible woman into a silly dance and the class into more fits of giggles.
This is an important moment in the film as it serves as one of the first instances in which Matilda uses her telekinetic abilities to defend herself and cause mischief. A series of shot/reverse-shot extreme close-ups build tension between Trunchbull’s menacing grimace and Matilda’s concentrated glare. Trunchbull’s frantic jig to rid herself of the creature also shows DeVito’s innate sense of humour, which flows throughout the entire film.