Seattle's Child

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Lashana Lynch as Miss Honey and Alisha Weir as Matilda in the new "Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical." (Photos courtesy of Netflix)

‘Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical’: catchy music and a powerful story

New version of a beloved story falls short in some ways, but it's a good two hours of entertainment with kids 8+.

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical,” cut to the chase: Ardent fans of the musical will rejoice for any reason to revisit the iconic songs and enthralling reinvention by genius Tim Minchin; all others will likely yearn for the Matilda struck into public consciousness nearly three decades prior.

First hitting a West End stage in the winter of 2011, “Matilda the Musical” was a smash hit, leaving audiences jubilantly belting its many musical numbers like “Naughty” and “Revolting Children.” But it is the opening number, “Miracle,” that sets the tone for this 2022 film adaptation of the 2011 musical based on the 1988 children’s book. Psychedelically colorful and fluidly choreographed, “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” doesn’t shy away from its theater roots. In fact, apart from some character and story cuts, it feels at every moment like the actors are really on a stage, committing the musical with veteran practice, precision and heart.

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Alisha Weir as Matilda Wormwood in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”

As well as that bodes for the power of the film’s song and dance, Matilda has a mild chemistry and connectivity issue. Our titular character Matilda, performed with incredible charisma by then-11-year-old Alisha Weir, is unwaveringly smart, cunning and virtuous, a much beloved literary character who is frightfully charming in this iteration as well. The beauty — and much of the appeal — of the musical is that Matilda features a real-life child lead, an exhilarating and emotional element amplified in a film with troves of other talented young performers.

Brought back to England as it was written in Dahl’s book, Matilda and her parents (Stephen Graham, Andrea Riseborough), whose presence in the film is a watered-down, plastic cutout relic of the roles popularized by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, sing and dance in circles around one another, never quite finding the bridge that tethers one to the other. Even Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch) doesn’t have the establishing backstory and emotional resonance one might hope, despite Lynch’s stellar performance.

Emma Thompson as Agatha Trunchbull, Alisha Weir as Matilda in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”

But it is Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson) who disappoints the most. Canonized by Pam Ferris’ ferocious performance in the previous film, Thompson — no stranger to prosthetics and larger-than-life performances — never scares in the way her character was intended, parading in her padded costume, singing her distaste for juveniles and her wish to throw them in the iconic Chokey, which produces more laughs than quivers. Matilda’s amazing telekinetic powers are also diminished, like a mere afterthought rather than a central metaphor to a story about the incredible potential of young girls.

As Matilda gains her footing at her new school, she learns the importance of self-worth and standing up for what is right, mobilizing her army of “revolting children” to demand equal rights for all, regardless of age. With its instantly catchy music and delightful, powerful story, it isn’t the worst two hours spent with an older child, though it might inspire you to dust off the original film to help fill in some gaps and flesh out the characters left hollow this time around.


Matilda (Alisha Weir) mobilizes the other children to stand up for themselves in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”

‘Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical’

Streaming starting Dec. 25 on Netflix

MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, exaggerated bullying and some language

Recommended age: 8+

Nightmare inducers: The Chokey, which has scared children for decades, is naturally a source of bulldogged terror once more, though the Trunchbull, its intrinsic counterpart, has much less bite than in iterations past.

Difficult concepts or emotions: parental neglect, abuse and abandonment; power dynamics between age groups and childhood bullying

Our reviewer found Emma Thompson more funny than scary as the menacing Agatha Trunchbull in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”

More entertainment in Seattle’s Child:

Disney’s “Strange World”: pretty, progressive and kind of forgettable

Meet the family who  made “The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness”

What’s playing on local stages, winter 2022-23

About the Author

Candice McMillan

Candice McMillan has been writing about film for more than 10 years. Since becoming a mom to her two daughters, she’s had to hang up her affinity for horror films, catering to the two smallest critics who prefer shows about rescue dogs and a family of pigs. Candice has degrees in journalism and film critical studies from USC, and her favorite children’s film is a toss-up between “Anastasia” and “A Goofy Movie.”