Matilda Wormwood shows us that magic is within us, how we are not alone, and how exceedingly funny life can be. With the use of the four formalistic elements, comedy and fantasy can be incorporated to form this magnificent film.

Matilda, a 1996 fantasy comedy film directed by Danny de Vito was based on Roald Dahl’s novel published in 1988 and now has made a name in the Broadway industry. The film won several awards including best director, best performance by a young actress, and the audience  award which they have won in different countries.

The film revolves around the life of Matilda Wormwood and her family. Since toddler, Matilda has showed signs of her intelligence and her difference from her family but her parents were oblivious thinking she was merely a mistake while her brother mistreats her and calls her names.

At a very young age she learned about her father’s business and how he cheats his way to the top.

Eventually, her parents decided to send her to Crunchem Hall, an unwell elementary school where she meets Agatha Trunchbull, a harsh principal who keeps her students in line by violently treats them and throws them to “The Chokey” as a form of their punishment.

On her first day, Miss Honey, a wonderful, sweet and passionate woman who happens to be Matilda’s teacher learns how intelligent and special Matilda really is. She then tries to reason out with Miss Trunchbull how Matilda should be moved up to a higher class to nurture her knowledge but Miss Trunchbull refuses.

Matilda befriends her classmates and the children from the higher years and learns how Miss Trunchbull loathes the children and vigorously mistreats them.

Miss Honey then tries to explain to Matilda’s parents how gifted their child is but in turn snubs her.

Matilda then learns about the FBI following every move Harry Wormwood, Matilda’s ignorant father, makes. Miss Honey does everything she can to nourish Matilda’s knowledge because she strongly believed that Matilda is a child genius.

The children grew tired of Miss Trunchbull’s cruelty after the incident where she punished Bruce Bogtrotter and punishes him by making him eat a whole cake all by himself. Lavender, Matilda’s first friend, pulled a prank where she put a newt, a little salamander, in Miss Trunchbull’s water as she too grew tired of Miss Trunchbull’s gruesome behavior and how she terrorizes them every chance she gets. As Miss Trunchbull learns about the newt in her drink, she then blames Matilda. In that moment, Matilda’s anger peaked by the injustice, manages to tip the drink using just her eyes. Matilda is then terrified and overwhelmed by the power she possess.

Miss Honey treats Matilda as her own daughter and invites her to tea in her house. She proceeded to tell a story about a little girl who lost both of her parents at a very young age, who stayed with her aunt until she grew up and bullied her and stole all her money and her own home, and later on left to live on her own in a small cottage. After the story and when they reached Miss Honey’s house, Matilda realizes that the girl in Miss Honey’s story is actually herself and the aunt is Miss Trunchbull. Also, Miss Honey left her precious doll, Lissy Doll, at her old house now owned by Miss Trunchbull.

With her newfound powers, Matilda comes up with a plan to take back what once was Miss Honey’s. She later on proceeded with her plan but unfortunately drops her red ribbon while escaping.

While in class, Miss Trunchbull paid a surprise visit and terrorizes the students to find out who the culprit is with Matilda in mind. With her powers, Matilda picks up the chalk with her eyes and writes a message directed to Miss Trunchbull with the words, Agatha, this is Magnus, give my little Bumblebee her house and her money. Then get out of town. If you don’t, I will get you. I will get you like you got me. That is a promise. Trunchbull believed that Magnus himself wrote the message and is terrified and collapses in front of the students.

Matilda continues to use her powers to punish Miss Trunchbull. After that incident, Miss Honey moved back to his father’s house after Miss Trunchbull fled. Matilda visits her everyday and continues to talk about everything.

Later on, the Wormwood family decided to move to Guam because of the FBI finally learning about how much of a cheater Mister Wormwood really is. Matilda refused to leave and migrate to Guam because of how well her life is. Matilda asked Miss Honey to adopt her but his father does not have time for all the legalities and it will be tedious process but fortunately Matilda has the adoption paper ever since she was tall enough to use the xerox machine in the library she frequently visits. His father did not know what to do with all the sirens in the background and he asks his wife to make a decision and she obliges with Matilda’s request and signs the adoption papers – the first thing they ever did ever since Matilda was born. Matilda’s parents got away from the FBI, Miss Honey was promoted as the principal of Crunchem Hall. Matilda then realized how good life can be. At the end, Miss Honey and Matilda continued to live a happy life and got what they both wanted – an adoring family.

In the early 90s the box-office revenues decreased because of recession which happened for 8 months in 1991 (Yang, 2000). As years passed, the Hollywood film industry continued to thrive and box-office revenues increased and achieved what they lost during the early 90s (Nicholson, 2018). Hollywood thrived in 1996 (Holmlund, 2008). Also, during this year new generation of directors emerged.

Formalism focuses on the technical aspects, formal elements, its style and aesthetics. There are four formalistic elements namely, mise-en-scene, film sounds, film editing and cinematography.

Mise-en-scene is defined by (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010) as “putting in the scene” and is originally french and most commonly used in plays, musicals and live actions. There are four aspects of Mise-en-scene. First is the setting it plays an important role in films and is usually the backbone. Also, characters are a part of this aspect. There are 6 main characters in this film.

Matilda Wormwood, the child genius who at a very young age knows almost everything she has to know. She is different from her family as she likes to read books rather than watching pointless television shows that her family watches. She was only a year old when she started to fend for herself and read countless books. She is neglected by her parents as they think that she’s merely a mistake for having her. Also, at the latter part of the movie she realized her telekinetic abilities and uses it for the greater good.

Harry Wormwood and Zinnia Wormwood, are the parents of Matilda and are selfish and ignorant when it comes to Matilda and her needs. Her mother, Zinnia has a weird obsession when it comes to her looks and leaves Matilda all by herself while she enjoys Bingo. His father, Harry cheats her way to the top without minding the repercussions. He neglects Matilda and deeply hates that Matilda reads book and that she acts different than them. Michael Wormwood, Matilda’s brother is her parent’ favorite. He mistreats her and and calls her names as if it was nothing. He does not care about anything other than his television shows.

Miss Honey is a precious and shy woman who happens to be Matilda’s teacher who helps her gain more knowledge and treats Matilda as if she was her own. Her students love her as she is passionate about everything she does and takes care of her students.

Lastly, Miss Trunchbull, the tyrannical principal who loathes children and punishes them violently. These characters play the most vital roles in the film. Second is the costume and makeup that helps in creating the desired mood and aura of a scene. Third is the lighting also helps set the mood because it helps the foundation of a film and how it helps in achieving the feels and the right emotions needed in a scene. Fourth is the staging and is used to create or modify a space or a set design needed for a certain scene.

Matilda was set and made in the 90s as seen in the different locations where the film was shot. The lighting and the acting of one particular scene where Miss Trunchbull was silent but her facial expressions say how terrified she really is was when Matilda made all the objects around Miss Trunchbull move around her. Also, with the help of dark lighting Miss Trunchbull’s house appeared darker to show her mood and her personality.

There were certain scenes where a single spotlight appears to enhance the actor’s face and her expressions.

The Wormwoods often watches TV with no lights on and shows only the colors of the television as the shot goes to Matilda it was seen how a single light is pointed at her as she was reading. This scene alone shows how different she is from her family, how their personalities and their hobbies differ from one another, and no matter how silent that one particular scene is it still is worth a thousand words with just the use of lighting.

There was also one particular scene where Matilda talked back and lock herself inside her dark room and suddenly gets an idea as her room lights up alongside. Also, the movement of the camera helped in telling the story with the use of visuals.


Film sound is an equally important part of a film used to help the audience understand a scene with just the use of sound effects and background music. A scene where a distinct sound is present and highlights the mood of the scene is when Matilda terrorized Miss Trunchbull with the use of her powers. The sound of the clock ticking, the chair moving, the leaves rustling, and the crows were evident in that particular scene. It goes to show how sounds play an important role in making a masterpiece. Also, film sound helps in achieving a box-office hit just like how Matilda broke box-office records back in the 90s.

Film editing in Matilda shows how much the film industry thrived in the 90s because of its modernized effects and transitions. A commendable scene that proved how the editing worked wonders was the scene where Matilda walks home while pulling a wagon with books in it and as she gets old while second pass.

As described by cinematographers in different parts of the world and in different fields, cinematography is the most essential part in a film. Matilda’s cinematographer, Stefan Czapsky, stated that he used different angles in attaining the moods required in a scene. He stated that he used low the angle shot while filming Pam Ferris known as Miss Trunchbull because he wanted to show her as an authoritative character, while he used high angle shots while filming Mara Wilson as Matilda because he wanted her to look like someone inferior to Miss Trunchbull. The whole duration of the film was darker compared than other children films. Also, the film contains a lot of close ups because it highlighted the expressions of the characters.

In conclusion, the film has helped incorporate two genres, comedy and fantasy into one brilliant film along with its simplicity and dark humor.  

“You are not alone.”


Thompson, K., & Bordwell, D. (2010). Film history: An introduction. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Holmlund, C., & Holmlund, C. (2008). American Cinema of the 1990s: Themes and Variations.

The History of the Hollywood Movie Industry. (2018, November 07). Retrieved from

Independent films changed face of “˜90s movie industry. (n.d.). Retrieved from

  • Myka Andrea

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