Many millennials will recall the 1996 movie Matilda from their childhood. Mara Wilson starred as the titular orphan character whose telekinetic powers become a problem for her adoptive family. While many people point to Matilda as a perfect example of a feel-good children’s movie, there were influences from other places that aren’t exactly kid-friendly.
‘Matilda’ was a beloved movie for children
Danny DeVito directed, produced, and starred in Matilda; though he’s known to many as an actor, DeVito had directed a few movies before Matilda, including The War of the Roses and Throw Momma from the Train. He plays Matilda’s grumpy car salesman father, and his karma comes back to bite him by the end of the movie.
Matilda’s telekinetic powers come in handy whenever she’s faced with a toxic or abusive adult in her life, from her adoptive parents to her evil school principal. It’s a classic tale of overcoming life’s obstacles and finding the joy in ourselves just as we are.
Tim Burton inspired ‘Matilda’
Matilda may be an overall lighthearted movie, but one of its biggest on-screen influences isn’t known for their levity. In 2016, Thrillist published a retrospective on the movie with input from several people involved in the production, both in front of and behind the camera.
Stefan Czapsky was hired as the director of photography for Matilda, but it wasn’t his first time he had worked with Danny DeVito. Czapsky photographed the actor as The Penguin in Tim Burton’s 1992 flick Batman Returns, and DeVito was such a fan of the wide-angle photography used in Burton’s films such as Edward Scissorhands that he brought Czapsky on as the director of photography for Matilda so he could use the same technique.
“He purposefully created sets in which you could see the ceiling and the background,” Czapsky revealed. “[DeVito] loved being photographed by the [wide-angle] lens. He had a face that actually could take the 10 millimeter. We used it both for Mr. Wormwood and the Trunchbull.”
Tim Burton’s influence made some of ‘Matilda’s iconic shots even more iconic
One of these Burton-esque shots can be seen in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. A student named Bruce Bogtrotter faces the wrath of principal Agatha Trunchbull, an intimidating and cruel administrator who runs Matilda’s school more like a boot camp than a place of learning.
Ms. Trunchbull forces Bruce Bogtrotter to eat a large, fudgy chocolate cake, and the camera is zoomed in on Bogtrotter’s face as he forces piece after piece down his throat. In another scene, Trunchbull herself is right up against the camera as she eats a chocolate-covered strawberry and tells Matilda they’re “much too good for children.”
If you feel uncomfortable watching these shots, that’s because they’re supposed to make you feel that way. Thank Tim Burton.