ByMatt Kranis, writer at
President of the Salacious Crumb Fan Club. Staff Writer at Movie Pilot. Twitter: @Matt_Kranis
Matt Kranis

Author Roald Dahl's work has provided the basis for some of our favorite children's movies. From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach to The BFG and more, Dahl's imaginative tales have consistently been adapted into great movies. That's certainly obvious to anybody that's seen Matilda.

The 1996 release follows the titular Matilda, an 8-year-old genius whose parents are complete idiots that mistreat her. To make matters worse, her school principal is pure evil, ready to torment and torture students at a moments notice. But when she develops telekinetic powers, Matilda has a way to get back at the adults.

The film celebrates it's 20th anniversary today, so we're taking some time to look back at Matilda with some fun facts and Easter eggs you probably never knew.

1. Danny DeVito Directed The Movie

Fans are sure to remember Danny DeVito as Matilda's sleazy car salesman father Harry Wormwood, but some might not realize that he also directed the film. Matilda was his fifth film and a big departure for the director, who'd never made a movie for kids before.

2. Richard Donner Was Considered As Director

Richard Donner during production of "The Goonies."
Richard Donner during production of "The Goonies."

DeVito may have landed the directing gig, but he wasn't the studio's only pick. Superman director Richard Donner was initially considered for the job, and seemed like a more obvious choice given his past kid-friendly success with The Goonies.

3. DeVito And Rhea Perlman Were Actually Married

Harry Wormwood had plenty of help "raising" Matilda from his wife Zinnia, played by Rhea Perlman. At the time Perlman was also DeVito's wife, making them a perfect comedic match. They separated after 30 years of marriage in 2012, but it appears that the pair are back together and as happy as ever.

4. Wormwood Has A Hidden Meaning

Matilda comes from a mean-spirited family, and while that's obvious from their actions its even more clear when you consider their last name. Wormwood is actually a plant known for its toxicity, and is potentially poisonous.

4. Mariska Hargitay Turned Down The Role Of Miss Honey

Teacher Miss Honey was a beacon of light in Matilda's life, proving that not all adults were horrible garbage people. While actress Embeth Davidtz brought the character to the big screen, the role almost went to Mariska Hargitay. But the actress clearly had different ideas for her career and turned down the part, landing her career-defining role as Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit three years later.

5. Roald Dahl Appears In The Film

A young Dahl captured in portrait.
A young Dahl captured in portrait.

The portrait of Miss Honey's father Magnus seen in the film is actually a portrait of Matilda author Roald Dahl. The painting was included as a touching tribute to the writer, who had died just six years earlier.

6. And So Does Dahl's Wife, Sort Of

Miss Honey's Lissy Doll.
Miss Honey's Lissy Doll.

Another reference to Dahl's life comes in the form of Lissy Doll, the toy doll seen in flashbacks to Miss Honey's childhood. The doll's name is actually a nod to Felicity "Liccy" Dahl, the author's second wife.

7. The Kids Were Really Afraid Of Miss Trunchbull

Pam Ferris created one of Matilda's most memorable characters with her take on depraved school principal Miss Trunchbull. And her evil performance kept going after the cameras stopped rolling. Ferris stayed in character throughout the production to instill fear in the young cast, that way their fear on-screen would feel genuine.

8. Miss Trunchbull Was Worried About Going Too Far

Miss Trunchbull's office (via Buzzfeed).
Miss Trunchbull's office (via Buzzfeed).

Miss Trunchull was pretty quick to dole out punishment, but it turns out she was worried about going too far. Looking around her office, you can spot a sign reading "Thou Shalt Not Kill," proving that even the evil Trunchbull wouldn't commit the ultimate sin.

9. The Chalkboard Scene Was Full Of Movie Magic

Matilda may have used her telekinetic powers to get the chalk to float for this scene, but filmmakers had to turn to some creative techniques to get the same effect. They actually wrote the letters backwards on the opposite side of the chalkboard, then put a magnet inside the chalk. When the time came to shoot, someone stood behind the board and copied over the backwards letters with a magnet, making it appear that the chalk on the front was writing on its own.

10. There Are Three Batman Actors In The Film

FBI agents Bob and Bill on a stakeout.
FBI agents Bob and Bill on a stakeout.

DeVito brought the Penguin to horrifying life in Tim Burton's Batman Returns, and the actor/director carried some Batman fan favorites over to Matilda. FBI agents Bob and Bill were played by Batman alums Paul Reubens, who portrayed Tucker Cobblepot in Returns, and Tracey Walter, who played Bob the Goon in 1989's Batman. Sadly, the Caped Crusader did not make an appearance.

11. There's A Hidden Reference To The BFG

Reading is FUNdamental.
Reading is FUNdamental.

Matilda might be smarter than most kids her age, but she's still prone to making some mistakes. While talking to Miss Honey about Charles Dickens, her favorite author, she accidentally pronounced his name as "Dahl's Chickens." The mispronunciation was a nod to Roald Dahl's The BFG, which features a massive giant prone to speaking jumbled English.

12. The Film Also References The Witches

Did you catch this Easter Egg? (via Buzzfeed).
Did you catch this Easter Egg? (via Buzzfeed).

There are a couple references to Dahl's The Witches in the film. The most obvious Easter Egg is a copy of the book seen on a shelf in the background of one scene. But a deeper reference comes when Matilda tells Miss Honey about the speed of a mouse's beating heart. The same subject was part of a conversation in The Witches between the protagonist and his grandmother.

14. Bruce Bogtrotter Is A Doctor Now

One of Matilda's most memorable moments came when Miss Trunchbull forced gluttonous student Bruce Bogtrotter to eat an entire chocolate cake in one sitting. The kid's cake-filled face has since become an internet meme all on its own, but what ever happened to Bruce? Well, in the years since actor Jimmy Karz has shed his baby weight and decided to ditch acting altogether, instead focusing on a career as an osteopathic doctor.

15. Mara Wilson Designed Matilda's Doll

Wanda was Matilda's doll.
Wanda was Matilda's doll.

Matilda's homemade doll Wanda was one of the child's few prized possessions, and for a particularly authentic creation the filmmakers had Mara Wilson design the doll herself. It looks exactly like what you'd expect a little kid to make, with a colorful and quirky style that feels one-of-a-kind.

16. Wilson Still Loves The Arts

Mara Wilson today (via People Magazine).
Mara Wilson today (via People Magazine).

Wilson did little acting post-Matilda, and today has basically retired from the craft. But she's still dedicated to the arts, shifting her focus from performing to writing. Wilson's written for sites like Cracked, Jezebel and The Huffington Post, wrote a play that premiered at the 2013 New York International Fringe Festival, and even runs her own storytelling show. Most recently, the writer's published a memoir, Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame. There's no doubt that Matilda would be proud of Wilson's success.

What are you favorite memories of Matilda? Let us know in the comments.

[Sources: IMDB, Buzzfeed, People Magazine]


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