Matilda follows the adventures of a little girl who has extraordinary powers but is trapped in a decidedly un-extraordinary family. When the extremely intelligent Matilda is sent to school under the despotic headmistress Miss Trunchbull, her telekinetic powers bloom, and she uses them to help her teacher, Miss Honey, escape the tyranny of Miss Trunchbull. This charming children's story shows the value of kindness and accepting people who are different, whatever their powers might be.
In a small Buckinghamshire village, Matilda is a six-year-old girl of unusual precocity, but she is often ill-treated or neglected by her parents. In retaliation, she resorts to pranks such as gluing her father's hat to his head, hiding a friend's parrot in the chimney to simulate a burglar or ghost, and secretly bleaching her father's hair.
At school, Matilda befriends her kindergarten teacher, Jennifer Honey, who is astonished by Matilda's intellectual abilities. She tries to move her into a higher class but is refused by the headmistress, the tyrannical Agatha Trunchbull. Miss Honey also tries to talk to Mr and Mrs Wormwood about Matilda's intelligence, but they ignore her.
Matilda quickly develops a particularly strong bond with Miss Honey and watches as Miss Trunchbull terrorizes her students with creative, over-the-top punishments. When Matilda's friend, Lavender, plays a practical joke on Miss Trunchbull by placing a newt in her jug of water, Matilda uses an unexpected power of telekinesis to tip the glass of water containing the newt onto Miss Trunchbull.
After Matilda reveals her powers to Miss Honey, Miss Honey confides that she was raised by an abusive aunt after the suspicious death of her father. Her aunt is revealed to be Miss Trunchbull herself, who appears (among other misdeeds) to be withholding her niece's inheritance, so that Miss Honey has to live in poverty in a derelict farm cottage. Preparing to avenge Miss Honey, Matilda develops her telekinetic gift through practice at home. Later, during a lesson that Miss Trunchbull is teaching, Matilda telekinetically raises a piece of chalk to the blackboard and writes on it, posing as the spirit of Miss Honey's late father and demanding that Miss Trunchbull hand over Miss Honey's house and wages and leave the region forever.
This is soon done, and with the approval of a new school headteacher, the capable and good-natured Mr Trilby, Matilda herself advances to the highest level of schooling. Rather to her relief, she is no longer capable of telekinesis; this is explained by Miss Honey as the result of using her mind on a more challenging curriculum.
Matilda continues to visit Miss Honey at her house regularly, but one day finds her parents hastily packing to escape from the police, who are after her father for selling stolen cars. Matilda asks permission to live with Miss Honey, to which her parents rather uninterestedly agree. So both she and Miss Honey find their happy ending.