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OLD REVIEW FORMAT2007
“The most important aim of any of the fine arts is to get a purely emotional response from the beholder.” - Walt Disney
It’s hard not to give a purely emotional response to Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Despite its rather over-the-top, little-kiddish façade, this unusual film contains some of the most poignant moments you’re likely to see in a family movie. It’s a brilliantly made production—so brilliant, in fact, that you find yourself laughing and rejoicing at, or even moved almost to tears by the very scenes you thought you were going to be rolling your eyes at. It’s a truly captivating movie—which is interesting, since, as Christians, we’re supposed to be taking our thoughts captive1, too… or, maybe, instead.
Overcome the emotional appeal of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, and in doing just that you’ve accomplished a task that’s a lot more difficult than you may have imagined, going into it. You’ll also find that you’ve stripped a lot of ungodly elements of their family-friendly disguise.
Mr. Magorium, the proprietor of the most amazing toy store in history, knows that he’s dying. He’s not sick or weak, and he doesn’t foresee some violent or accidental death. He just knows, because he once found the perfect pair of shoes and fell in love with them so entirely that he bought enough to last his whole life. This is his last pair.
Now, go ahead and roll your eyes, if you haven’t seen the movie—you can do that because you’ve never seen movie-making on this level before.
The film—rated G, directed toward kids—chronicles the last few days before Mr. Magorium’s “departure,” beginning with his hiring an accountant (affectionately named the “Mutant”) to sort through his papers, differentiate between receipts, important legal documents and unframed doodles, and put his affairs in order—no mean task, considering that Mr. Magorium claims to have been in the toy business since the mid-1770s. The Mutant isn’t exactly buying that—or the I.O.U. from Thomas Edison—or the fact that the store is magic—or… how about this interesting conversation:
“According to your employment records, you’ve had several fictional characters on the books.”
“The King of Planet Yahweh.”
“Oh, he’s not fictional. He’s not really the king, and the planet Yahweh doesn’t exist, but he’s not fictional.”
“Well, that’s the thing. If there’s no planet…”
“You can’t blame people for having aspirations, hmm?”
For those of you who aren’t already acquainted with the origins of the word Yahweh, it comes over into the English from the Hebrew words translated “I AM.” It’s the name of God. Not just his title—“God” is his title—but his name. I don’t know whether this was intentional mockery or not; I can’t read Mr. Helm’s mind; but replace the less-familiar “Yahweh” with the anglicized version, “Jehovah,” and I think mockery’s the mildest word you can use for that conversation. For right now, though, unintentional mockery is bad enough.
When it comes to finally telling his manager, twenty-three-year-old Molly Mahoney (affectionately named “Mahoney”), and his best customer, nine-year-old Eric (affectionately named “Eric”) about his “departure,” Mr. Magorium’s gentle way of wording things results in some willful misunderstanding on Mahoney’s part. Eric is the one who calmly says, “I think he means he’s going to heaven. Right?” Mr. Magorium, with his unflappable smile, replies, “Heaven, Elysium, Shangri-la. I may return as a bumblebee.”
Of course, the movie doesn’t stop being cute—or G-rated—just because it’s started preaching Greek mythology, Tibetan Buddhism and Hindu reincarnation. It just stops being acceptable.
Now, the message of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is about having faith and redeeming the time—both concepts that are central in the New Testament… and in New Age; and the language strongly favors the latter. After resetting all the clocks in a clock shop in one of those presumably living-life-to-the-fullest moments, Mahoney says, “Now we wait.” “No,” says Mr. Magorium. “We breathe. We pulse. We regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest. Thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime.” Inspirational, if you can ignore the New Age part… which is everything between “We breathe” and “Thirty-seven seconds,” and maybe a little bit after that.
The faith part comes in—well, it starts with Mahoney’s lack of inspiration. She’s “stuck—like, as a person.” This will never do, though, since she’s the one Mr. Magorium has chosen as his heir. She’s set up to inherit the store, but the store’s magic is something she has to find for herself… somewhere. So Mr. Magorium gives her the Congreve Cube. Yes, it’s a big block of wood, and no, she doesn’t know what to do with it. “There are a million things,” Mr. Magorium says, “one might do with a block of wood, but, Mahoney, what do you think might happen if someone just once believed in it?”
Okay, if you want to roll your eyes at that one, I’m not going to try to stop you. But it still doesn’t come across quite as zany in the movie as it sounds in the review. Mahoney tries praying to the Cube. Nothing—exactly what we’d expect from a block of wood. The point isn’t the magic in the Congreve Cube. The point is the magic in Molly Mahoney.
“What Mahoney needed was the opportunity to prove to herself that she was something more than she believed.”
You see, the Congreve Cube wasn’t magical, by itself. Mr. Magorium’s store wasn’t even magical by itself. It had actually thrown a tantrum at hearing of Mr. Magorium’s “departure”, and refused to be magical any longer. Everything had turned black, the magic inventory book started misbehaving, and none of the toys would work. And the block of wood still wouldn’t do anything either useful or entertaining. Until—Mahoney believed in herself. Not just built up her self esteem, or decided to follow her dreams, but believed in herself, put her faith in herself and realized that all this time she had been looking for an objective reality—something that existed outside of her—when the inspiration, magic and something-to-believe-in were real only when she believed they were real. They became real to her.
And the movie’s still cute, at this point. The magic comes back to the store, the Congreve Cube starts flying around the room, and Mahoney finds her “sparkle”.
Meanwhile, Mr. Magorium has died—or, rather, departed. He has come to his final day, and compared himself to Shakespeare’s King Lear, of whom it was said only, “He dies.” Mr. Magorium has lived his five acts, and he doesn’t ask Mahoney not to be sad at his going, but to let the next story begin. “And if anyone ever asks what became of me, you relate my life in all its wonder, and end it with a simple and modest ‘He died.’” He tells the weeping Mahoney that he loves her, bids her goodbye, and seats himself in the center of his magical Wonder Emporium, where a magical paper airplane circles around him, leaving a trail of stars, until Mr. Magorium, smiling calmly as always, is surrounded by the cosmos. The scene fades to black. And as Christians we know that, behind the scenes, Mr. Magorium enters into eternal torment. He’s a man who did not put his faith in Christ, but in goodness, magic, and an inspirational screenplay.
If you’ve never seen Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, it should be pretty obvious that this is a movie that Christians really should not be drawn into. If, on the other hand, you have seen it, you know that not being drawn into this brilliantly-made little film is easier said than done. Oh, sure, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium may be—and is—completely indefensible. There’s absolutely no justification for putting up with the false religion2 here, any more than in real life. But you have to get past the purely emotional response to be able to see that. And that’s a hard thing to do.
I will be honest with you. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is a movie that I abhor. It is, intentionally or not, a propaganda piece for New Age false religion, and yet I’m still struggling with fond memories of it, months later. And I’ve only seen it once. It is next to impossible to overcome the appeal of this movie, even when you do catch all the serious problems. It’s next to impossible to bring your thoughts about this movie into captivity to the obedience of Christ. That’s what makes Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium such a despicable film. That’s what makes it Worth Avoiding.
1 2 Corinthians 10:4-5
2 A light sprinkling of false religion would have been enough to earn Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium a negative rating, but the false religion is the point of the movie, and it comes in heavy doses from beginning to end.