“I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made. Your works are wondrous, and I know this very well.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Modern streaming services are not where one would naturally think to go in order to find content with messages that affirm and support the basic assumptions of the Christian worldview. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m abandoning my argument that the Gospel lies at the heart of all of the stories we tell. But most of the streaming content available these days, though perhaps Gospel-driven at some level, is usually much more conscious about advancing a narrative that is much more progressive in its worldview outlook. Given the passion with which the current cultural left embraces the pro-abortion position and opposes the pro-life position, you are even less likely to find something that celebrates the value of children and especially babies. Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally sat down to watch Netflix’s version of the celebrated stage show, Matilda, the Musical, and the opening song was about as profoundly pro-life in its tone as anything I’ve seen on a screen in a long time. This morning, let’s talk about Matilda, the Musical, and its wonderful reminder of just how much children matter.
I had heard of the musical version of the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl, Matilda, before I watched the Netflix version, but I didn’t know anything about it. Admittedly, knowing this was a modern adaptation of a classic from a generation ago, I didn’t expect much. I didn’t expect much because Dahl’s original work was just so good. Growing up, I read nearly every single one of his major novels. He wrote with such incredible imagination, warmth, and joy. His stories absolutely draw you into the world he created; a world where the possibilities were endless and where adventure was lying around every corner. It was a world where children were always the heroes, and adults who committed the cardinal sin of not liking children always got their just desserts in the end. He painted worlds where goodness and kindness always won the day. The imaginative world of his stories naturally lent itself to film productions, and sure enough, all of his major novels have been treated to film adaptations over the years, several of them more than once. Some of these have been true classics (Gene Wilder’s Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, for instance), while others didn’t quite live up to the glory of the original (the 2020 version of Witches). The fact that his stories are just so tellable, though, will guarantee they’ll keep being told over and over and over.
Matilda is the story of a remarkable young girl with extraordinary intelligence who lives in horrible circumstances. Her father is a crooked used car salesman. Her mother is a lazy, entitled housewife. Neither of them had any interest in ever having children and resent Matilda greatly for messing up their perfect life. After some initial reluctance, which Matilda overcomes with the help of some clever pranks, her parents finally enroll her in a local school. The school’s Headmistress is a tyrant named Agatha Trunchbull who terrorizes the children whom she resents and hates. Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, is good and kind and loves her students fiercely. She and Matilda immediately form a strong bond. The rest of the story is about how Matilda navigates the travails of living with her crooked, no-good parents, rescues the school from Trunchbull’s tyranny, and restores a family fortune to Miss Honey who winds up adopting her to give her the home she always wanted.
The Netflix version of the musical mostly sticks to that script. In fact, it sticks a bit closer to the script than the 1996 film version did. What made the musical stand out so much to me was two things. First, it is a visual feast. The movie wonderfully captures the imaginative whimsy of Dahl’s storytelling worlds. The settings are all over the top. Matilda’s school looks like a prison inside and out. Her house captures all the smarmy cheeriness creating a thin veil over a more sinister snarkiness Dahl wrote into the original novel. Miss Honey’s house is small but homey. And the various dream sequences turn all of this wild imagery up to eleven.
Second, and even more importantly is the music. The songs are simply fantastic. The performances are terrific. The lyrics are clever and fun. “The School Song,” for instance, has a whole sequence where a series of lines start with successive letters (or at least the letter sounds) of the alphabet from A to Z, each one hitting right as the letter is shown above a different classroom door. The choreography for each song is outstanding as well. The whole thing is simply a delight.
What excited me the most, though, is how true the film stays to Dahl’s pro-children and pro-life vision of the world. Dahl loved children. This came out so clearly in all of his writings. That love is carried completely into this film such that it echoes loudly in every single scene. No scene captures this more clearly, though, than the opening number, “Miracle.” The song is the very first thing you see and provides the vehicle for the opening credits to roll. It opens with a series of adorable babies voiced by young singers who are singing about how their mommies and daddies think they are wonderful in various ways. This gives way to a sequence of parents (all of whom, it was not lost on me, are moms and dads as couples; there is not even a hint of a pro-LGBT undertone in this film) who are all mooning over their newborns, crowing about how amazing they are.
The next part of the song takes us to the office of an obstetrician who is having a conversation with what turns out to be Matilda’s mother. She refuses to believe she’s pregnant in spite of the fact that she is very obviously pregnant, and continues doubting the doctor’s insistence that she is right up to the point that her contractions start and she has to be helped onto a delivery table. The doctor, then, goes on to sing about how every life is a miracle and should be celebrated accordingly.
It’s hard to imagine a song that flies more in the face of the culture of death that is advancing in this nation and in spite of the Supreme Court’s welcome overturning of Roe v Wade last June. This past election day saw voters from one state preserve an abortion law that allows the terrible practice to occur all the way up until the moments before a mother gives birth. Voters from another state rejected a law that would have mandated that children who are born alive after an abortion attempt must receive medical care to preserve their life rather than being left to die as is the documented case in more than one abortion clinic around the country. In too many places today life is treated as something inconvenient at best. We make ourselves the ones who determine which lives are worth keeping and which are not. Those we decide are not – a group that includes the unborn, the elderly, the infirm, and as is disturbingly the case in Canada, anyone who is simply inconvenient for the state or even an individual family to care for whether for reasons of physical suffering, emotional pain, or even poverty – are disposable. Life and the people living it are too often treated as problems to be solved rather than the miracles they truly are. In the face of all this celebration of death, “Miracle” offers a wonderful and needed counterpoint.
If you are looking for something to watch this weekend, Netflix’s Matilda the Musical is most definitely worth your time. And, just for fun, and because it is just so good, here’s “Miracle” for you to enjoy. Happy Friday.