The Daily Stream: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium Confronts Mortality With Earnest Whimsy
(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" (2007)
Where You Can Stream It: Apple TV+
The Pitch: Earnest whimsy is both precious and rare. Conversely, sarcastic whimsy is readily available but that particular subgenre, while thoroughly enjoyable, is sufficiently saturated. Until such a time that the pendulum of popular preference swings the other way, some of the best options for a fantastical romp that's unafraid to romp fantastically are to be found a little further back in Hollywood's cinematic catalog. Enter "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," a 2007 family film from 20th Century Studios about a magical toy store and its magical owner.
Starring Dustin Hoffman (whose family-friendly credits include "Hook" and "Kung Fu Panda"), Natalie Portman (whose similar credits include "Thor: Love and Thunder" and "Bluey"), Jason Bateman ("Zootopia" and "The Muppets"), and Zach Mills ("Super 8" and "Malcolm in the Middle"), the story sees Mr. Magorium (Hoffman) hire Henry (Bateman) to settle his business affairs so that Molly (Portman) can legally take over ownership of the Wonder Emporium. And what a wonderful emporium it is! Bursting with magic, the emporium is truly alive. Actually, it's not dissimilar from Howl's home in "Howl's Moving Castle." Well, except for the whole heart-eating fire demon thing. There's a circus strongman living in the basement, does that count?
We're getting sidetracked. Eric (Mills) is there, too, serving the dual purpose of character and narrator. He shares the story as Bellini (Ted Ludzik), the aforementioned basement strongman, wrote it in his final volume of Mr. Magorium's long, long biography. Oh, that's right -- this is not-so-secretly a film about embracing life and confronting mortality.
This Chapter Is Called ... The Power Of Promises
Why It's Essential Viewing:
At its core, beneath all the paper airplanes and the Abraham Lincoln Lincoln Log statuary, "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" tells the story of a dying man at the end of his 243-year-long journey. He, Mr. Magorium, embraces his final steps with serenity and poise, but conflict arises when his loved ones are less eager to see him go. Where this film stands out from other family media is that it never forces Mr. Magorium to reconsider. The happy ending comes when everyone else, including the sentient toy shop, comes to respect his wishes and move forward with their lives. Zach Helms, the writer and director behind "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium," added a surprisingly mature and timeless message to the pop culture lexicon that delivers upon its central promise — all stories, even the good ones, must come to an end.
Something else refreshing about "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" is how it blatantly refuses to justify itself. For example, who exactly is Mr. Magorium? Is he an ancient wizard? A benevolent god? Why does he possess a magic emporium that suffers from severe emotional dysregulation? What does their existence mean for the larger narrative? Do not wait for such answers because none will come. These entities are meant to be accepted as they are and, when compared to the expositional density of more current cinema, that kind of simplicity can be beautiful. Please don't misunderstand! World building is by no means a fault but, in a post-Pottermore age where blockbuster films come officially packaged with sprawling compendiums of trivia, burnout is real. Let Mr. Magorium be Mr. Magorium, a strangely weird and weirdly strange dude.
This Chapter Is Called ... The Gravity Of Joy
There are four main characters in "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" and three of them are portrayed by A-list celebrity talent. Natalie Portman portrays Molly Mahoney, The Composer, a struggling artist with an endless capacity for belief that is rarely directed inward. Jason Bateman portrays Henry Weston, The Mutant, a dry-witted accountant whose comprehension begins and ends with what he can see. Then, of course, Dustin Hoffman portrays Mr. Edward Magorium, Toy Impresario, Wonder Aficionado, and Avid Shoe-Wearer, a man of mysterious origin who fosters joy where ever it can be found and creates his own where ever it cannot.
In no uncertain terms, Portman, Bateman, and Hoffman understood the assignment. They could have easily phoned it in on a movie that features dialogue like "the laws of gravity are beginning to apply!" and "doesn't this hospital need a signature to remove a patient's euphonium?" but, instead, they approached the material with the same fire that Michael Caine gifted the world in "A Muppet's Christmas Carol." There's just no other explanation for Hoffman delivering a soul-shattering Shakespearian monologue about the perfect balance of a quiet death and a loud life while surrounded by sock monkeys.
And that conviction is clearly shared by the rest of the cast, too, who all seem to relish playing in the space Zach Helm devised. Yes, it's silly. Yes, it's borderline ludicrous. But it works because that unadulterated joy is palpable in every moment of the film, even in Bateman's straight-man role. "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" pulls you in, if you let it. And you should. You really should.
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