RetroReviews #31: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2013)





Sorry, professional critics, but you just don’t get this movie. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is a beautiful film that touches on deep issues like death being inevitable, the need to move on, the importance of believing in yourself, and viewing the world with a child-like sense of wonder. The device used to convey these ideas is a story about Mr. Magorium (played by Dustin Hoffman), a 243 year old owner of a magic toy store who realizes he can’t stay there forever and is grooming a replacement.

Aside from critics being cynical about the film’s message, much of the negativity directed at the movie had to do with the large amounts of CGI used to portrayal the magical powers of the story. I have been an outspoken critic of Hollywood’s terrible trends of trying to CGI everything in modern films, and ending up with fake, video-game looking fight sequences, or plastic looking animals. Here, I had no problem with the CGI. It was used to create inanimate objects, and what better way would a film depict a “magic toy store” than to use visual effects that look like magic? I thought it was particularly effective at the end, when the store interior has turned entirely charcoal gray and barren when the store is “dead”, but springs to life and becomes buzzing with color and activity from all the toys when a new owner is able to carry on Mr. Magorium’s wishes.

Another element that seemingly divides people is Dustin Hoffman as Mr. Magorium. He seems to be channeling Ed Wynn here. Again, it was an unconventional choice for a live action role played by Hoffman, but I had no problem with it, and felt it fit the character, who is supposed to be over 200 years old and eccentric. Of course, his assistant knows nobody will believe his actual age. In one scene that worked perfectly, she forces him to go the hospital when he claims he is going to die soon, and uses the excuse that he must have suffered a stroke because he thinks he is over 200 years old. Hoffman’s acting in this scene certainly did show why the doctors would mistake him for a real life stroke patient, but it also fit entirely with the idea that the Mr. Magorium is such a zany magical character that he has no place life in modern society anymore.

I really enjoyed the mystery elements of the movie. Magorium informs everyone that he is “going to go away”, which we eventually learn means he is going to die. He has a set date and time, even though he’s not sick and shows no signs of dying. He just informs the employees at his shop that he knows his time is drawing to a close and it’s “time for him to go”. When he eventually does die, midway through the movie, the scene was quite heartbreaking and effectively hammered home the idea that no person could take Mr. Magorium’s place, no matter how well they were trained to run his store.

Like the critics that bashed this movie, a central character is a newly recruited accountant that Mr. Magorium hires to get his paperwork in order after decades of having it in chaos. The straight-laced, by the book accountant scowls at the idea of a “magical toy store”, and is convinced Magorium and all his delusional employees must be playing some type of sick game. Magorium nicknames him “mutant” because he is so out of place as a jaded, humorless prude in a children’ s toy store. In the end of the film, he finally comes around and warms up to the fact that the toy store, despite their being no real world explanation, really is magical.

I feel the same is true of this movie. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is a magical movie. Whether you allow yourself to accept its world and let yourself into it to enjoy its magic, or shun the film as an stupid sappy CGI mess, much like the Mutant character in the movie would, is up to you.

*** out of ****



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