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Blu-ray review: 'Matilda'

Dennis King Published: March 27, 2014

Long before “Matilda: The Musical” became a Tony Award-winning hit on Broadway, the story was a much-beloved children’s book by the great British eccentric Roald Dahl and a prickly, endearing 1996 movie adaptation by actor-director Danny DeVito.

In the nearly 20 years since its release, that quirky, zippy little film – much like the story’s page and stage incarnations – has achieved a sort of cult status among young fans, as well as among grown-up admirers of Dahl’s warm, weird and wonderfully cracked body of literature. Now, the movie has gotten a polished, bonus-leaden Blu-ray edition that will surely delight fans of all ages.

“Matilda” tells the story of a remarkable little girl (played with unassuming precociousness by Mara Wilson) who has the misfortune of being born to Harry and Zinnia Wormwood (played by DeVito and his then-wife Rhea Pearlman). Harry’s an oafish, dishonest used-car salesman, and Zinnia is a bleached-blonde tart who’d rather play bingo and gossip on the phone then pay any attention to her cute, gifted little daughter.

For her part, the plucky Matilda has special, telekinetic gifts that are nourished only after she convinces her parents to send her to Crunchem Hall, a Draconian private school, where she comes under the graceful tutelage of Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz), a divinely sweet teacher, and has to fend off the cruel ministrations of Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris), the school’s fascist headmistress, who regards all students with crinkle-nosed disgust.

The story of how sweet Matilda’s genius triumphs amid the crassness and ignorance of her mundane surroundings forms the gist of Dahl’s enduring tale about the importance of love, family and instilling in children the gift of self-respect.

The movie is simply a gem, but it’s in the ample bonus features that this new Blu-ray release provides much extra luster. The sumptuous extras include:

- A wonderful new featurette titled “Afternoon Tea: A Very Magical Matilda Reunion,” in which DeVito and the producers have gathered cast (including Wilson, Pearlman, Davidtz, Ferris and others) and crew for a nostalgic reunion to reminisce and discuss their ongoing affection for the story and their theories on why it has become a modern classic.

- “Matilda’s Movie Magic,” a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of many of the movie’s special effects.

- “A Children’s Guide to Good Manners,” a humorous short that contrasts polite advice for children’s behavior against scenes in the movie that depict youngsters at their worst.

- “Escape to the Library,” in which DeVito extols the virtues and pleasures of reading and encourages children to make ample use of their local libraries.

- “My Movie About Making Matilda (by Mara Wilson),” an impressively polished and thoughtful six-minute featurette by the young actress showing behind-the-scenes footage and recording her thoughts on the experience of starring in this much loved classic.

- Dennis King


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