Once a Roald Dahl classic, then an award-winning musical, now a vibrant and whimsical film. Matilda the Musical brings the Tony award-winning production to the big screen. It follows Matilda (Alisha Weir), a young girl with a sharp mind and boundless imagination, who takes a stand against those who don’t treat her or others with respect.
Let’s get some of the pros out of the way. Being a musical film based on a stage production, it’s no surprise that the dance choreography is a standout. It’s fun, energetic and next-level entertaining, making the most of the advantages of the film format. During the high-energy musical sequences, there’s so much happening on screen that it’s just a joy to watch. Even if the songs themselves aren’t hitting, the quality of the choreography remains a strong point. This is where the benefits of having experienced theatre director Matthew Warchus on board as director really shine through. It’s certainly a film, though I can see in almost every creative element where it has been derived from a theatre show.
Linked to the choreography, we have the music. From the mind of Tim Minchin, his style of music and lyrics is perfect for the tone of Matilda. It’s lighthearted and playful first and foremost, with a little emotional flair that seeps through. I’d say around half of the songs in here really hit the spot, while the other half just didn’t work for me. For the most part it’s the slower songs that didn’t hit as well, and I’d chalk that up to not being wholly invested in the narrative. Many of the slower songs hinge on some sort of emotional attachment to the characters, and since I didn’t have that attachment, the songs just didn’t do the job.
The other big plus for me – the performances. Alisha Weir is a pure bundle of joy, perfect for the role of Matilda as she really embodies the spirit of the character. She has a lovely, animated personality and is an immensely likeable force of nature. I can see her achieving much success not only on film, but on the stage as well. Then there’s the wickedly talented Emma Thompson, who is an absolute chameleon. Not only does she fully transform into Agatha Trunchbull from a physical perspective, but even her voice and the way she carries herself is all orchestrated to bring this iconic villain to life. Every time she’s on screen, you know you’re about to see something great. Lashana Lynch plays Miss Honey and does so really well. She’s so pure and likeable that you’re on her characters side from the moment you meet her.
The biggest downside to this film has to be the story itself. Almost all of the non-musical scenes bogged down the film and made it very hard to get through. Between coming across as too silly and childish, or just slowing the runtime, these scenes were (to put it simply) boring. Moments involving Matilda and her less-than-kind parents became repetitive, leading to a couple of late eye-roll moments. Even character-centric scenes with Matilda’s school friends didn’t leave an impression on me. Then there’s the acrobat and escapologist subplot, which is a complete waste of time – adding nothing to the story. I get it was part of the stage production, so has to be in here, but every time the focus switched to this arc I fully checked out.
As much as it was a slog to get through, I have to to be fair to the film. It establishes a very playful, child-friendly tone in the beginning and doesn’t stray from that focus. The story certainly didn’t work for me, but I can see it being a hit with families nonetheless.
In the end, Matilda the Musical had me looking forward to a fun, uplifting musical, but in the end I was very much disappointed. Yes, the choreography and set design is a highlight, the lead performances are great and some energetic songs really hit. However, the slower the songs lost me, the non-musical story scenes dragged on and on, and the acrobat subplot was a pointless mess. As a big fan of musicals myself, it’s a shame this one didn’t work for me. Fun in some areas and boring in others, Matilda the Musical might be better suited for youngsters.