Matilda (1996)

The second Roald Dahl adaptation of the year is a James of a giant 
disappointment, a strictly-for-kids revenge fantasy about an 
exceptional little girl (Myra Wilson, from MRS. DOUBTFIRE) and how 
she gets back at both her nincompoop parents (Danny DeVito and Rhea 
Perlman) and her school's horrible headmaster (Pam Ferris).  Danny 
DeVito also produces, directs, and even narrates, heaven help us.  
(The effect of the latter is actually quite jarring.  His voice is 
too recognizable and the resulting contrast-- between the neutral 
narration and his non-neutral character-- is so confusing that it 
nearly stops the film cold.)  Behind the camera, though, Danny the 
Director (WAR OF THE ROSES, HOFFA) is as innovative as ever.  He 
has enough cinematic slight-of-hand up his sleeve to rival Brian 
the DePalma.  

Unfortunately, DeVito doesn't know to quit when he's ahead.  The 
director's fatal mistake is that he never pulls back from either 
the cartoon cruelty or the overplayed buffoonery.  The result is a 
movie that quickly grows tiresome and, like too many other summer 
entries, ends up a one-dimensional ride.  Not that the intended 
audience will mind.  Kids will laugh and scream and shout, while 
their parents pay attention to other problems, such as the starkly 
lit exteriors, the off-balance plotting, and one little girl with 
very little range.  (Myra Wilson can express all of, what?, three 
emotions?  Or is four?)  There may be as much imagination at work, 
here, as in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.  However, *this* 
Dahl needs to be handled with a softer touch. (Rated "PG"/96 min.)

Grade: C+

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: August 12, 1996

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