''Matilda'' is the most recent of the author?s offbeat tales to hit the big screen

By Jason Cochran
Updated May 03, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Moviegoers who found James and the Giant Peach a sweet-and-sour treat should clear their palates: The film harvest of author Roald Dahl’s offbeat tales is just starting. This summer, director Danny DeVito gives us Mara Wilson as the rambunctious Matilda, and 1971’s scrumdiddlyumptious Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory returns to theaters for its 25th anniversary. Suddenly Dahl, who died in 1990, is this year’s hot rediscovery.

With the new wave of screen versions of his kids books (Danny: The Champion of the World aired on TV in 1989 and The Witches was released in 1990), can movies of goodies like Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator be far behind? Filmmakers ”ask all the time,” says Dahl’s daughter Lucy, author of tie-in books for James and Matilda. Producer Kathleen Kennedy (E.T., Jurassic Park) must have asked nice: She bagged The BFG for Paramount, reportedly to star John Cleese as the Big Friendly Giant. Matilda adapters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, husband and wife, earned Dahl family blessings to script it. ”We enjoyed reading his books to our daughters,” says Swicord. ”Now we’re becoming the voice for them, to our bewilderment.”

Dahl was a prickly pear about going Hollywood — he thought it made his books saccharine — but the title of his 1967 James Bond script is right on target: You Only Live Twice.