The Book: 1988
Roald Dahl; illustrated by Quentin Blake (Puffin Books; originally published by Jonathan Cape)
The Film: 1996
Directed by Danny DeVito (TriStar Pictures)
Would you believe that until this past summer I had never before read Matilda by Roald Dahl? It’s true. I’m not sure why this book about a little girl who loves books never found it’s way into my hands… This wasn’t my first foray into the world of Roald Dahl, however, but it had been a long time since my grade three teacher read us The BFG and The Twits. On the other hand, I’ve adored the movie Matilda since I was little, so I was definitely familiar with the story well before reading the book.
I was very surprised how closely the movie follows the book. The cake-eating boy, the chokey, the girl being thrown by her pigtails…they are all just as they were in the book. Even quite a few chunks of narration and dialogue are word for word from the book. The big differences are that the book is set in England, whereas the movie is somewhere in America; also, in the book the father is tall and thin, and the mother is quite round, whereas in the film it’s the opposite. But that’s about it… As far as adaptations go, I’d say this one is pretty spot on.
I love that the book (and the movie, too) encourages children to read and learn, and that there is power in books. Matilda is smart, polite, courageous…and a bookworm. Love it! I think she is a great hero for young readers.
Dahl’s writing is fun, inventive and empowering; I love the recurring theme of children besting adults. On a related note: You know how there are lists of Shakespearean insults? Well, someone needs to make a list of all the crazy Roald Dahl insults because I don’t think you’ve really been insulted until you’ve been called a “poisonous pockmark.” Also, Dahl is the king of creative alliterations!
Like the book, the film is very entertaining, and makes you want to stand up and cheer when the adults get what is coming to them. I like how the movie is filmed at an angle that makes the adults look grotesquely tall/large as though they are seen from a child’s perspective. By the end of the movie, this angle is reversed with Matilda looking down at Ms. Trunchbull. Kudos to the creative minds behind that decision!
The one detail about the movie that I’ve always found peculiar, though, is the fact that Danny DeVito is the narrator and one of the villains… He has a good narrator voice and he does a good job as the crooked, ignorant father, but why did he need to be both?
Matilda, whether book or film, is a pleasure not to be missed. And so I leave you with this last thought, from one bookworm to another:
“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”
“Popcorn and a Book” is a monthly feature where I compare a book with its adapted film. If you would like to participate in this feature, please visit the “Popcorn and a Book” main page for details.