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1996 film adaptation of the Roald Dahl book about an exceptionally clever little girl, Matilda Wormwood, who has exceptionally horrible and ignorant parents. Matilda has a love of learning and books, and her parents think she is stupid and deride her for reading while they watch mindless Soap Operas and Game Shows.

The first half of the film deals with Matilda discovering how to use her intellect against her parents by playing tricks, like supergluing her father's hat to his head. The second half of the film pits her against a far more formidable enemy -- "The Trunchbull", her school's sadistic headmistress, as well as introducing the only person to truly recognize Matilda's amazing talent, Miss Honey. Matilda ultimately has to pit her prodigious intellect (and newly discovered telekinetic powers) against the Trunchbull to liberate both the sorely oppressed children and her beloved teacher, as well as making a better life for herself.

The film stars Mara Wilson (Miracle on 34th Street, Mrs. Doubtfire) in the lead and a frighteningly accurate Trunchbull in the form of Pam Ferris.

Tropes used in Matilda (film) include:


  • Abusive Parents: Matilda's parents verbally berate her and neglect her every need. Later in the film, it's revealed that Miss Honey was raised by The Trunchbull, who wasn't any less abusive to her than she is with the students. In the movie, Matilda's parents have no problem leaving her at home, and they left her in the car when they got home from the hospital after driving extremely recklessly with her unrestrained in the back seat.
  • Actor Allusion: Pam Ferris plays an overweight, sadistic woman who acts incredibly cruel to an orphaned related-by-marriage child relative ( her step-sister's daughter, Jenny Honey) and seems to believe that it's In the Blood when it comes to how rotten children are. Also, she is perfectly happy simply assuming how nasty children are without gaining any proof. And, really, compare these lines;

 Trunchbull: The apple never rots far from the tree!

Harry Potter's Aunt Marge: If there's something wrong with the bitch, there's something wrong with the pup!

    • Ironic considering that she is quite a bitch herself in both roles.
  • Adults Are Useless: None of the teachers at Crunchem Hall challenge The Trunchbull because they are absolutely terrified of her. It is eventually discovered that Miss Honey's fears of her are particularly justified. The parents, however, don't have much of an excuse. Not a single student manages to convince their parents that The Chokey exists. It's sort of justified by Matilda's theory that the various punishments from The Trunchbull are so over-the-top that the parents simply don't believe it.
  • Age Cut: Twice in the movie.
  • And That Little Girl Was Me: Miss Honey telling Matilda about her own childhood.
  • A God Am I: In the film, the Trunchbull manages to give a spiel to this effect in a classroom, to children, in a very Sadist Teacher kind of way.

 Trunchbull: Am I wrong? I'm never wrong. In this classroom, in this school, I!! AM!! GOD!!

  • Ascended Extra: A couple of characters from the book, such as Bruce Bogtrotter, who only appeared a single chapter were upgraded into regular friends of Matilda's in the movie.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Miss Honey.
  • Because I Said So: Matilda is made to do as she's told because "I'm big and you're small, I'm right and you're wrong, I'm smart and you're dumb, and there's nothing you can do about it."
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Played straight. Matilda is a sweet girl with the purest intentions... who uses her powers to evade, inconvenience and, in the end, instill abject terror in her enemy.
  • Big Bad: The Trunchbull.
  • Big Eater: Bruce does manage to eat the entire cake - and the thing was huge. Leaves your wondering what kind of stomach capacity he has.
  • Bowdlerise: Except for Trunchbull's use of the word "pissworm" being muted and the scene of Matilda's mom talking to her friend on the phone about someone getting a boob job getting cut, ABC Family shows the film practically uncut (unfortunately, that means they left in all the scenes of kids being abused and bullied by The Trunchbull, a reference to Matilda's mom allegedly cheating on her husband [when really she was talking to the undercover cops posing as boat salesmen], and all the scenes of Matilda being neglected and verbally abused by her parents and brother).
  • Brain Critical Mass: Profoundly gifted kids the world over wish that being bored out of your mind and forced to tolerate the idiocy and cruelty of everyone around you gave you Psychic Powers. In the book, Matilda's telekenetic powers go away when she finally gets put in the upper grades; in the movie, the narrator explains that because of Matilda's new, happier life, she no longer uses her psychic powers -- unless it's for trivial things, like getting books off the shelf.
  • Bully Hunter: Of the anti-Sadist Teacher variety.
  • Butt Monkey: Harry Wormwood, once Matilda works out how to get even with him without being found out.
  • The Brute: The Trunchbull.
  • Call Back: Bruce Bogtrotter (the boy who had to eat an entire chocolate cake as punishment for stealing a slice of cake) can be seen shoving a piece of chocolate cake into the Big Bad's mouth as she is run out of the school.
  • Cassandra Truth: The Trunchbull deliberately uses such outlandishly cruel punishments because any parent would assume a child was making them up.
  • Ceiling Cling: Matilda, to the underside of a table.
  • Child-Hater: The Trunchbull. Exemplified by her motto, "Use the rod, beat the child."
  • Child Prodigy: Matilda.
  • Crazy Prepared: In the film, Matilda has had adoption papers on hand since she was big enough to xerox.
  • Creator Cameo: Sort-of. The portrait of Magnus, Miss Honey's father, is of Roald Dahl.
  • Cultural Translation: In the movie, the cast is American instead of English and it is set somewhere in America instead of somewhere in the Home Counties. Only Pam Ferris is British. Crunchem Hall retains an oddly British feel by being a fairly old, dour-looking building rather than the newer building more typical of American schools in media, as well as maintaining much of the same structure as a traditional British school.
  • Cute Bookworm: Matilda loves reading more than anything else.
  • Dartboard of Hate: Miss Trunchbull is seen to have a dartboard on her office door covered in photos of random students. She's able to throw about a dozen darts at the thing at once and accurately hit all of the pictures.
  • Dean Bitterman: The Trunchbull.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After Matilda telekinetically writes a message that is apparently from her deceased husband, and telekinetically reversed the thrown child to right back at her, Trunchbull is knocked out of the classroom, and looks up to find the entire student body, every single student that she had bullied since getting the job, glaring down at her with their lunchboxes before promptly pelting her with all of their lunch, causing her to leave in fear.
  • Hair Decorations: In the movie, Matilda always wore a hair ribbon that she tied into a bow.
  • Evilly Affable: Miss Trunchbull in the film.
  • Evil Brit: In the movie, all the characters (who were British in the book) become Americans except Pam Ferris as Miss Trunchbull.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Harry just doesn't get why Miss Honey would want to raise Matilda even when he's told she's a smart and wonderful girl. He still likely disagrees and was more than happy to get her off his already-full hands.
  • Evil Counterpart: Miss Trunchbull is this to Miss Honey.
  • Evil Teacher: Guess who?
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Matilda's parents don't understand Matilda's love of books and learning, rejecting her for it. They prefer the more mundane Michael who is being coached to take over his father's company.
  • The Film of the Book: Like many Dahl books, this got a film adaptation.
  • Force Feeding: Involves a overweight kid who is forced to eat chocolate cake, as punishment for supposedly stealing Miss Trunchbull's cake, while the whole school watches. In other words, he is not allowed to stop eating until he has finished the whole cake, and it's HUGE too (18 inches in diameter). Even if he gets sick, he has to keep eating.
  • Genius Book Club: Matilda has already made significant inroads into the Western Canon by the time she starts school.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Matilda's father is peeved at what his daughter is reading.

 Harry (her dad): What is this trash you're reading?

Matilda: It's not trash, daddy. It's lovely. It's called Moby Dick.

Harry: (reacts in shock) Moby WHAT?

    • When Miss Trunchbull wrongly accuses Matilda for putting a newt into her cup of water.

 Trunchbull: You didn't like the Chokey, did you? Thought you'd pay me back, didn't you? Well, I'll pay you back, young lady.

Matilda: For what, Miss Trunchbull?

Trunchbull: For this NEWT, you PISSWORM!!

    • When Miss Trunchbull is buying a car from Mr. Wormwood's lot.

 Trunchbull: I am looking for a car that is cheap & reliable. Can you service me?

Mr. Wormwood: In a matter of speaking, yes...

    • When Ms. Wormwood has won a big bingo jackpot.

 Ms. Wormwood: I just won DOUBLE BINGO!

Mr. Wormwood: Double Bingo, huh? *oooooooh*....

    • Ms. Wormwood is chatting on the phone with an unseen friend of hers.

 Ms. Wormwood:...If you get yours waxed, it'll change your life, too!

  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Miss Trunchbull.
  • Happily Ever After: Well, Matilda and Miss Honey anyway.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Mr. Wormwood's secondhand car business. Matilda's dad is the stereotypical sleazy car salesman, even putting sawdust in the oil so that the engine will burn out and they have to come back and buy a new car.
  • Hot Teacher: Miss Honey.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Matilda undergoes this. The movie uses a Montage.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: In the movie, Mr. Wormwood is shorter than Mrs. Wormwood, but he's now the pudgy one, and she the wiry one. Partly because they're played by the director, Danny DeVito, and his actual wife, Rhea Perlman.
  • Humiliation Conga: The movie significantly pads the scene of Miss Trunchbull's downfall. After her first being spooked by Matilda pretending to be the ghost of Magnus (with all the children in unison reading the chalkboard message), she is beaten up by chalk-covered erasers, knocked onto a globe by the same student she tried to throw out the window, and in the end is chased out of the school and into the parking lot by the entire school, driving away as they pelt her and her car with food from their lunchboxes.
  • Impairment Shot: During Miss Trunchbull's Humiliation Conga, there's a shot of her seeing double from dizziness after being spun on the globe.
  • Jerkass:
    • Agatha Trunchbull.
    • Also, Harry Wormwood, whose used-car company sells cars made from stolen parts - at outrageous prices - that only survive for a few miles. Because their engines are filled with sawdust. And then there's how he acts around Matilda.
  • Lady and a Scholar: Matilda is a genuinely sweet-natured kid, and never thinks of herself as superior for her brains. If she's asked anything intellectual, she will respond in a polite fashion. She really only dislikes people who are annoying or rude to her.
  • Large Ham: The Trunchbull, especially in the film.
  • Laughably Evil: Miss Trunchbull in the film.
  • Maximum Fun Chamber: The Chokey, which turns out to be a non-lethal (as far as we know) iron maiden.
  • Mind Over Matter: Matilda's telekinetic powers.
  • Mind Screw: In the movie, Danny Devito plays both Matilda's (villainous) father and the narrator, which creates a strange, postmodern tone.
  • Plucky Girl: Matilda.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie expands the book with filler in most sequences (including Matilda going on a commando raid of the Trunchbull's house), significantly alters the nature and extent of Matilda's powers, gives her an age upgrade, foreshadows the authorities' interest in her parents' crimes, and turns her nice but dumb brother into a sadistic brat. None of this particularly alters the story itself though.
  • Punishment Box: the sadistic headmistress is fond of (among other things) using the "Chokey," a closet lined with spikes, thus like an iron maiden in which there is just barely enough room to stand.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: In the movie, "Send Me On My Way" by Rusted Root. Watch the first few minutes of that film until the song comes up and just try not to smile, fondly remember your childhood, and then dance around crazily.
  • Race Lift: Lavender. In the book she is white; in the movie she is black.
  • Refuge in Audacity: This is how the Trunchbull gets away with such shocking cruelty to the students. Any parent who heard their kid tell them the principal threw them in a closed chamber with broken glass and nails jutting out of the walls for several hours would naturally assume their kid was lying.
  • Sadist Teacher: The Trunchbull, arguably the queen of this trope.
  • Shout-Out: to other Roald Dahl works; Matilda accidentally refers to Charles Dickens as "Dahl's Chickens" at first, and later she shares with Miss Honey that "the heart of a mouse beats at the rate of 550 times a minute".
    • It's very hard not to see the shot of Trunchbull snorting against the window as a direct reference to the raptor doing the same thing in the then-recent Jurassic Park movie.
    • In the end of the movie, The Wormwoods, after giving up Matilda to be adopted by Ms. Honey, make their getaway to Guam. In another movie produced by Danny De Vito & staring him & his wife, Rhea Pearlman, The Ratings Game, it has the wayward ship (with the Nielsen Ratings families on board) traveling to Guam. It also shows the Wormwood's stupidity since Guam is a U.S. Territory. Needless to say, even if they made it to Guam, the Law still catches up to them.
  • Sleep Mask: Mrs Wormwood wears one.
  • Smug Snake: The Trunchbull.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: It's not in evidence, anyway, despite all the child abuse going on.
  • Spies in a Van: Matilda notices a car is always parked on the street outside their house. The car turns out to belong to cops who are trying to arrest Matilda's father for selling cars with faulty car parts.
  • Sticky Situation: Mr Wormwood + hat + superglue
  • Straw Feminist: A dash of this after the Trunchbull hears the "Mrs. D, Mrs. I" mnemonic for spelling "difficulty," whereupon she demands "Why are all of these women married?"
  • Surrounded by Idiots: How Matilda probably felt, especially towards her family.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: Matilda's telekinesis first displays itself when her father rips up her library books and tries to force her to watch TV with the rest of the family.
  • The Unfavorite: Matilda's parents inexplicably hate her and refuse to believe she is any more intelligent than a lima bean (though, in the movie, Matilda's mother admits that she was mean to her because she never really understood her daughter), but favor her rather dim-witted brother Michael instead.
  • Villainous Breakdown: While she doesn't seem to break down as much, the Trunchbull is obviously distraught that the children were able to get back at her which she didn't even forsaw.
  • Wham! Line: In-universe example, from the movie (in-universe as the audience is aware of Miss Honey and the Truchbull's past, but the kids aren't):

  Miss Honey: I am not seven years old anymore, Aunt Trunchbull!

    • Also, the line directly before that one, spoken by the Trunchbull to Miss Honey, her niece, may qualify: "I broke your arm once, I can do it again Jenny."
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Matilda, big time. She's able to multiply large numbers in her head (eg. "13 times 379") in seconds. She says she likes to read just about anything. It's implied that the only reason she wasn't in advanced placement by now was because her parents don't believe in the value of education.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Trunchbull has no problem with this whatsoever.
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