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This review is from: Matilda [DVD]  (DVD)
This film is so good - for both kids and adults - that I think Dahl himself must be looking down from Heaven and smiling - after the rumours of what he felt about the production of The Witches. Some of the characterisations, sets and costumes could have been put together by the master of kitsch, Baz Luhrmann, and this is a testament to both Dahl's eye for detail and Danny DeVito's wicked sense of humour - and vice versa. Although in many ways the story has been changed and not least Americanised, Dahl's original book was rather short on substance, despite the fantastic plot, and DeVito's adaptation suits it much better than setting it in phlegmatic old England. Plus Miss Trunchbull as an Englishwoman adrift among Americans makes her character even more grotesque as she brings her curious brand of "English" discipline to an ordinary American suburb, and the way she mimics the cutesy American accents adds much more to her character than if the film had stayed set in England. And since it ends in the way Dahl intended it to - and indeed for fans of Quentin Blake's illustrations, the handwriting on the board is absolutely spot on to that pictured in the book itself, which shows DeVito is paying attention not only to the original but to critics of Americans making films of English children's classics - there is nothing for that peculiarly English snobbery about "disneyfication" to latch on to as there might have been with The Witches.
Although DeVito's additions of the stupid FBI cops enhance the story (and prove that Matilda is just as smart with people who are supposedly on her side, which I loved and which makes her the sassiest heroine for a long time), there is sadly one bit that really annoyed me - Miss Honey. In the book she is down-to-earth, practical and nonchalant about her fate. In the film...ugh, I needed to do my teeth afterwards lest they fall out from all the sugary-sweet acting. From the moment she turns up on screen the film - while not completely ruined - takes a turn for the "unrealistic". I guess Miss Honey had to live up to her name, but Miss Saccharine would have been more appropriate. The stomach-churning episode with the doll and the chocolates is disappointing, but I suppose the film manages to pull it off - just about - with more of Dahl's refreshingly grim humour injected into it just as Honey becomes Honey Monster. I suppose for an American audience the heroine has to be whiter-than-white, but since I was raised on Quentin Blake's gawky bespectacled blue-stocking, I suppose someone coming to this film without the backhistory might not mind.
But...the best thing about films of children's books, like with Narnia, is that the silver screen gives the chance for the characters to really come to life and details which would crowd a hundred-page novella can be added, and the film manages to create a whole world that is just as believable from Matilda's point of view as the Dahl version, without losing any of the master's sparkling wit or erudite points dropped in at a moment's notice. Bravissimo!
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Initial post: 19 Oct 2009 19:19:51 BDT
What's more, she's telekinetic!
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