Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Mr. Magorium never outgrew his toys—pretty remarkable, considering the guy is 243 years old.
Magorium, a lively fellow with wild hair, a pet zebra named Mortimer and a fondness for shoes, has been running Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium for the last century or so. It's a place that makes Toys 'R' Us look like the DMV—where Legos build themselves, fish-mobiles are made with real, wriggling fish, and balsa-wood dinosaurs play with Frisbees.
But big changes are ahead. See, Mr. Magorium has worn out his last pair of favorite shoes, and since he bought enough to last a lifetime, he knows he's about to die, er, depart, as he puts it. So Magorium hires a stuffy accountant (whom he immediately dubs Mutant) to determine what his store is worth and prepares to hand the whole thing over to his day-to-day manager, Molly Mahoney.
The doubt-filled Mahoney has her own problems. And this candy-colored film creatively uses them to teach us all a thing or two about life. When she was a child, everyone told her she was a musical prodigy, and she still has aspirations of fulfilling her promise. But now, as an adult, she's still working at, well, a toy store. Sure, it's magical and all, but it's not the sort of job one boasts about at class reunions.
She is horrified when she learns of Magorium's plans and tells him flat-out that he's got to keep living and dealing with the store himself. After all, she points out, the place is called Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. "It rhymes!" she exclaims, and she takes it upon herself to show her eccentric boss all the small wonders of the world he'd miss out on if he decided to, um, depart. What kind of things? Things like dancing on Bubble Wrap, jumping on furniture-store beds and, inexplicably, making calls from pay phones.
The Emporium isn't so keen on Magorium leaving, either: The bright red walls begin turning a charred gray in anticipation and, on Magorium's apparent last day, it throws a temper tantrum. In so doing it reveals to attentively watching children just how childish such outbursts are.
"Maybe it needs a time-out," says Eric, a hat-loving store regular.
Eric, a boy of about 9, is the film's voice of rationality. But he's struggling, too. His hat-wearing ways and penchant for elaborate Lincoln Log sculptures make kids his own age steer well clear. But his mom and Mr. Magorium are urging him to try to make friends. So he does. He reaches out to the Mutant. He begins to write notes to the guy, holding them up to the window of the store's office, where the Mutant is poring over centuries-old receipts.
"Would you like to play checkers?" Eric scribbles. Sorry, Mutant writes back. I'm working.
"How about when you're done working?" Eric returns.
"I never stop working."
But he does eventually stop working. And before film's end, Mutant and Eric are playing pretend and having loads of fun with the best of 'em.
Thus, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is crammed with winsome, childlike wisdom, coaxing nursery-rhyme-like precepts from its characters and their relationships. They're archetypes, really: The accountant who can't see the magic around him; the shunned, shy little boy; and the uncertain store manager who feels she was made to do great(er) things.
When Mahoney first asks the Mutant whether he sees a sparkle in her—"something reflective of something bigger trying to get out," he's befuddled. But not for long. Indeed, all the characters here carry with them a hidden "sparkle." And each one journeys toward getting it to show.
Through it all Magorium serves as ringmaster, part silly man-child and part wise sage. Confronting his own mortality, he tells the store the only thing they can do is face the coming day with "determination, joy and bravery." When Mahoney takes Magorium to a clock store so they can listen to all the clocks strike 12, she breathlessly whispers they only have 37 seconds—all they have to do is wait.
Magorium corrects her, saying that it's 37 seconds to breathe, reflect, enjoy, regenerate, dream.
"Thirty-seven seconds well used is a lifetime," he says.
In the end, this is largely a tale about the wonder of life, the inevitability of death and the struggle to bring those two conflicting ideas together. That's oddly heavy stuff for a G-rated flick about a magical toy store, but it's handled quite deftly and in ways that even its youngest viewers will understand. Stories, even the ones we love the most, must eventually come to an end, we're told. "I'm only asking that you turn the page," Magorium tells a weeping Mahoney. "Continue reading. And let the next story begin."
Spirituality enters at right angles. The Mutant scolds Magorium at one point for keeping fictional characters on his payroll. As an example, he points to an entry for the "King of Planet Yahweh." "Oh, he's not fictional," Magorium says, though he admits the planet is hokum. "He's definitely not fictional."
When Magorium tries to make it clear he's departing, it's Eric who understands first. "I think it means he's going to heaven," he says. Magorium agrees, then adds other places he might wind up in, including the Happy Hunting Grounds and Shangri La. He concludes with, "I may return as a bumblebee."
As for the story's magic—well, I'll tackle that down the page.
Mahoney wears a low-cut dress in one scene.
When a 2-year-old throws a tantrum, it's bad enough. When a huge toy store throws one, things get downright crazy. One girl gets covered in goo. A boy runs around with a lemur attached to his head. Another shopper, reading a book about the sea, gets attacked by a squid. (She makes a formal, and wet, complaint to Magorium with the squid still clutching her cranium.) Objects fly off shelves. Glass breaks. Pandemonium ensues.
A kid rudely stomps on Mutant's toe. A towering red gym ball squishes (harmlessly) a young shopper against a door. Magorium opens the door and says, "Pretty impressive ball, isn't it? Impossible to dodge."
Crude or Profane Language
The voice of a toy—apparently mission control for a rocket launcher—says "crap" when the launch goes awry. Magorium interjects "drat," "bunkum," "hogwash," "pure horseradish" and "holy cow." A surprised woman blurts, "My lord!" Another characters says, "What in God's name?"
Drug and Alcohol Content
Turnip pudding is as close as it gets.
Other Negative Elements
Eric invites the Mutant to come over to his house to check out his hat collection. The encounter is completely innocent, but Eric's mom is understandably taken aback when she comes home and finds a strange man playing with her son in his room. So this scene should trigger a discussion with children who see it; they need to understand that in this day and age they should never invite people over without their parents' permission and without their parents being present.
I remember my first pinwheel—how, when I took it outside, the wind would catch it, and sunshine would glint off its metallic plastic sleeves. For a 5-year-old, it was ... magic.
There's lots of magic like this in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. Stuffed animals cozy up to would-be owners, a gigantic magic book poofs toys into instantaneous existence, and bouncy balls try to sneak out of the store via shoppers' bags. This isn't the kind of magic you find in Macbeth or Harry Potter or even The Chronicles of Narnia. This is the special magic with which most children engage during their first precious years, when the world is filled with wonder and newness and outrageous possibilities. The Emporium is a place where imagination sparks reality—where paper planes can paint a cosmos.
I could have ended my review with cosmos had not the Mutant—in the film's final crescendo—said this to Mahoney: "What you need to believe in is not ... the store, or me. What you need to believe in is you."
It's a pretty common message in kids' films. Too common, some would say. "Believe in yourself" sounds a little too selfish, a little too close to "Follow your heart, no matter what anyone says." When taken out of context—as it often is at the movies and in real life—it can lead to all sorts of bad decisions such as hasty marriages, even hastier divorces, quitting college or even becoming a Hollywood screenwriter! Following your heart often translates into following your emotions, and emotions are fickle.
But the truth is, there's nothing wrong with following our hearts as long as we lend our brains and our souls to the proposition, too. God created in each one of us talent, passion and drive to do ... something. Throughout most of this story, Mahoney closes her ears to that calling. And the music doesn't soar until she opens them. She's not escaping responsibility or relationships. She's finally embracing them.
"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast," Eric Liddell says in Chariots of Fire. "And when I run I feel His pleasure."
We are God's creatures, and each of us carry a sparkle—something greater than ourselves trying to get out. And believing in yourself enough (being courageous enough) to make that happen, well, that's a great thing indeed.
A postscript: I told you this film was heady for a toy store story.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Natalie Portman as Molly Mahoney; Dustin Hoffman as Mr. Magorium; Jason Bateman as Henry "Mutant" Weston; Zach Mills as Eric Apple Baum
Zach Helm ( )