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Baddies don’t have a chance with “Matilda”

Updated: Oct 16, 2023


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

Precocious Matilda is played by Mara Wilson and her cruel parents (Harry & Zinnia), played by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman.


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“MATILDA”

4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray & Digital copy; 1996; PG for elements of exaggerated meanness and ridicule, and for some mild language; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (iTunes) (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: A cast reunion featurette from 2013.








WHEN THE British Broadcast Company (BBC) published its list of the 20 greatest children’s books in May this year – chosen by global critics and experts – British author Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” landed at No. 10.

Originally published in 1988, only two years before Dahl’s death, the story of Matilda Wormwood was his highest praised work within the BBC list. Also on the list was Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (1964) finishing at No. 18. Over the decades, his writing includes “James and the Giant Peach” (1961), “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (1970), and The BFG” (1982). With his other works, more than 300 million copies have been sold.

For years young readers have loved his entertaining and macabre stories. “Dahl is one of the most colorful and light-hearted children’s writers,” Professor Maria Nikolajeva said at the University of Cambridge during a 2016 interview with the BBC. Despite the humor, his work contains plenty of darkness, a product of his own childhood, losing his older sister to appendicitis and father to pneumonia before the age of 4. Young Dahl was eventually sent away to a boarding school, where the schoolmaster flogged children.

To celebrate this week’s annual global celebration of Dahl’s stories, Sony Pictures has released a remastered 4K Ultra HD Steelbook edition of “Matilda” starring actor/director/producer Danny DeVito (“Taxi” TV series, “Batman Returns,” “Get Shorty”); his wife, actress Rhea Perlman (“Cheers” TV series), and Mara Wilson (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Miracle of 34th Street,” 1994) as Matilda.


(1) Baby Matilda was played by twin sisters Kayla and Kelsey Fredricks. (2&3) Sarah Magdalin plays 4-year-old Matilda who can handle her own cooking in the kitchen. (4) Matilda had read every magazine in the house and she asked her dad for a book. “A book? Why would anyone want a book when they have a perfectly good TV to watch?”




DeVito and Perlman first heard about “Matilda” in the early 1990s when their children (Lucy, Jake and Grace), “were graduating from picture books into reading chapter books,” DeVito says during the featurette “Matilda Reunion.” “I would tell people it was something I wanted to do.” Previously, DeVito had only directed dark adult comedies: “Throw Momma from the Train” (1987), “The War of the Roses” (1989), and the bio-picture story “Hoffa” (1992).

Precocious Matilda has cruel parents (Harry & Zinnia) played by DeVito and Perlman, who leaves her home alone to fend for herself. Her parents and big brother only watch television. When 5-year-old Matilda asks for a book to read, her dad responds in dismay, “Why would anyone want a book when they have a perfectly good TV to watch?” She teaches herself how to read and walks to the library every day to read the classics “Hedi,” “Ivanhoe,” “Moby Dick” and dozens of others.

Then she asks to go to school, and again her dad explodes: “Nonsense!” Eventually, he places her in the perfect school, Crunchem Hall, headed by authoritarian Miss Trunchbull – a former shot-put and hammer-thrower in the 1972 Olympics – played by English actress Pam Ferris. Trunchbull is the perfect villainess who has plenty of nasty orders for Matilda, “Sit down, you squirming, worm of vomit!” Fans may also remember her as the irascible Sister Evangelina on early season of “Call the Midwife.”




The Joy of Reading

(1&2) Matlida walks to the library by herself and is greeted by the receptionist Miss Phelps played by Ron Howard’s mother Jean Howard. (3) Matlida would spend hours at the library reading. (4&5) Mara Wilson now plays Matilda and uses a wagon to tote the books between the library and home.




Wilson, only a child, had already read the book when she was cast. “I really loved it,” she says during the featurette. “One of the messages is you can make your own family. On the movie set, we were very familial. I did feel like Danny and Rhea were like my aunt and uncle.” Mara’s mother Suzie was diagnosed with breast cancer during that period. “I remember feeling anxious when the movie wrapped, and it was really hard to go back to being normal and dealing with my mom’s sickness,” Wilson says during a 2013 Parade Magazine interview. Her mom passed away before the movie was released, but Wilson didn’t discover until years later that DeVito visited her mother in the hospital and showed her a nearly complete cut of the film.

The redemptive part of Dahl’s story is how teacher Miss Honey, played by the luminous Embeth Davditz, takes Matilda under her wing and becomes her guardian. Matilda also discovers she has the power of telekinesis, and uses it to fight off her parents and defend her schoolmates from Miss Trunchbull.

EXTRAS

The 4K disc includes a recently recorded commentary with DeVito, who admits the verbal abuse his character and Trunchbull give Matilda and others, “would be hard to get made today.”

The carryover Blu-ray (2013) houses all of the additional extras including the 21-minute “Afternoon Tea: A Very Magical Matilda’s Movie Magic” in which DeVito, Perlman, and Sony Pictures host a cast reunion in the director’s backyard. The majority of the cast appears including Mara Wilson (Matilda), Pam Ferris (Trunchbull), Embeth Davidtz (Miss Honey), Brian Levinson (brother Michael Wormwood), Kiami Davael (Lavender), Jaqueline Steiger (Amanda Thripp), Jimmy Karz (Bruce Bogtrotter), Leor Hackel (Julius Rottwinkle), Tracey Walter (FBI agent Bill) and Sara Magdalin (4-year-old Matilda), plus Michael Peyser (producer), David Newman (composer) and David Rubin (casting director). Several brief scenes are reenacted such as Miss Honey and the adult children going over the multiplication tables, and where Miss Trunchbull berates the children.

Another featurette, “Matilda’s Movie Magic,” highlights the special effects and behind-the-scenes footage of the swinging-pigtail Amanda scene, with the code word “Jellybeans,” if she got too dizzy during the filming. Plus, a behind-the-scenes video diary footage by Mara Wilson.


(1) Paul Reubens and Tracey Walker play FBI agents investigating Harry Wormwood for his shady car business. (2&3) The Wormwood Used Carlot and Harry show Matilda and her brother Michael how he puts sawdust into the transmission to disguise its shortcomings. (4&5) Matilda and the other students are terrorized by their schoolmaster Miss Trunchbull, a former Olympic athlete played by Pam Ferris.





VIDEO Sony Pictures is the best in the business with scanning and encoding 4K content, scanning the original 35mm camera negative (2.39:1 aspect ratio) in TRUE 4K. The footage was captured on anamorphic Panavision lens by cinematographer Stefan Czapsky (“Edward Scissorhands,” “Batman Returns”), who used a super-wide-angle lens throughout, a technique he also used throughout “Scissorhands” and “Batman.” The new remastering shows excellent onscreen clarity, especially in those wide shots. There’s a big difference compared to the older Blu-ray, made more likely from a respectable 2K master. The only time the resolution drops is during the composite fades and effect shots.

The HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading provide a nice, neutral color palette, with natural facial toning. The maximum peak light level hits 893 nits and averages at 320 nits. The video and audio encoding are housed on a 66-gigabit disc as the video mostly runs in the mid-70 Megabits per second range.

AUDIO

The audio also gets an upgrade from the 5.1 DTS-HD Master to a new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which highlights music cues from composer David Newman and some effects to height speakers. And, yes, there’s plenty of deep bass response in those effects moments. Overall, the sound is quite effective for family drama.

When “Matilda” premiered in August of 1996, it received good reviews, but for some reason, it didn’t particularly set the summer box office on fire. It finished the year No. 46, right behind “Muppet Treasure Island.” But once it became available on VHS home video it became a hit – especially with young girls visiting their local Blockbuster. Today, many of those young girls are now mothers with children, so why not bring these family classics back home on 4K Ultra HD!

Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer


(1) Heartwarming first-grade teacher Miss Honey, played by Embeth Davidtz. (2&3) Miss Trunchbull forces student Bruce Bogtrotter (Jimmy Karz), to eat a huge cake in front of the student body, since she believes he stole her smaller cake from the school kitchen. The student cheers on Bruce to finish it off. (4) Matilda uses her telekinesis powers to make a deck of cards to fly around the room. (5) Trunchbull questions Matilda and Miss Honey about being inside her home. As a child, Miss Honey lived in the same house. (6&7) Miss Trunchbull receives revenge from the students.

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