Several years ago – I’d say I was about eleven years old – my grandparents gifted me and my younger sister with a DVD of a wonderful film I had never heard of before: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007). It stars Natalie Portman as Molly Mahoney, arguably the protagonist proper, and Dustin Hoffman in the titular role of Edward Magorium.
One of the most obvious characteristics of this film is its almost omnipresent, child-like optimism. This is one of those films that I like to refer to as a ‘happy-sad movie’. In other words, even the sad or upsetting moments are somehow cheerful and uplifting. In the nine years since I first experienced this film, I have become noticeably more susceptible to ‘soppy’, ‘corny’, or otherwise just plain sad onscreen moments. This story did not make me cry as a child, but now, as a more film-savvy twenty-year-old, I am not ashamed to admit that, in my recent viewings, the sad scene gets me every time. I always finish this movie blinking back tears, but also with a massive grin on my face.
Now, this film is not actually considered to be critically spectacular; it has an underwhelming 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics claiming that a dazzling aesthetic cannot disguise an over-simplistic story. They’re right. There’s nothing terribly special about the basic plot progression. But – at least for me, anyway – that’s beside the point. This film lifts you up so high with its colourful mise-en-scène, goofy characters, and fairy tale quality that there’s really no sense in caring about the critical merit of the overall story.
Perhaps I am being too generous. I do believe, however, that the reason I am able to so easily aggrandise this film is that I honestly have never seen another one quite like it. Maybe I am as easily manipulated by the art of cinema as the children in the film are entertained by the toy store. Maybe it stimulates a suppressed nostalgia in me each time I watch it. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium explores very cliché – but very real – issues of self-esteem, love, loss, etcetera, but in a playful manner, which, personally, keeps me highly entertained. Magorium himself is 243 years old. This seems entirely unfeasible, but then again, so does the whole magical-toy-store thing. There is never a logical explanation given for the delightfully supernatural nature of the Emporium, or indeed Magorium’s own lifespan. It is, plainly and simply, a metaphor, the message being that life can be as magical as you believe it can be. This essence is embodied by Henry Weston, the “Mutant” accountant. He represents the non-believing bureaucracy and, as would be expected, is fairly boring and unimaginative at the beginning of the film but gradually warms to the idea of the toy store being magical.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is credited with introducing me to the word ‘triskaidekaphobia’, as well getting me in trouble on several occasions for dancing on perfectly good bubble wrap. It is a popular concept in kids’ films that adults have lost their sense of wonder, and that’s why they’re so dull. Mr. Magorium possesses the wonder and optimism of a child, despite being 243 years old, and that’s what makes this film so – to put it simply – fun. Most of the people I ask about Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium have never heard of it, and those who have tend to think it’s a kids’ movie. Well, it is, but not exclusively, and I would recommend it to anyone. Despite its child-like enthusiasm and apparently rudimental story, this ‘kids’ film’ can make a twenty-year-old tear up because, contrary to what we like to tell ourselves, the simple and uplifting messages this film conveys are useful to everyone, even grown-ups.
‘Your life is an occasion.
Rise to it.’
Jules A Maines