I like a G movie, as Edith Ann used to say. Or do I? Being a postmodern, post-Lord of the Rings neo-cineluddite, forever after numb to all that is good and wholesome in this world, I am guaranteed to have extra contempt in my heart for something like Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, right?
Well, not at first, if that makes you feel any better. At least it wasn't based on some crappy kid's book first, I give 'em bonus points for that.
And now, time for Screenplay Structures 101:
Opening credits: Not as anarchic or retro as Monsters, Inc. Again, maybe I'm jaded, but surely they could've come up with an opening credits sequence a little more fantastical. A little more befitting the sense of wonderment that's sure to follow.
Time of Transition: SPOILERS - We start with a story about a magical toy shop, named after the film's title. (It's too late to retype the hwole damn thing.) And we see how the operation works, and we learn a little about the store's owner and his cheerful yet beleaguered assistant, Molly Mahoney. So, with the introductions aside, we find out that Magorium is "leaving". Dying? Well, sort of like that. But he's going to act as his own Kevorkian, by God.
Oh yeah, and Magorium hires an accountant. A real stuffed shirt, played by the now ubiquitous Jason Bateman. What did I just see him in? And right there the audience is split. Who will drag us into the story: the accountant, or Magoo's plucky assistant? Or for the kids, the weird kid with the hat collection? Too many avatars to choose from.
Enigma: Or MacGuffin, as Roger Ebert calls it. The stuff that dreams are made of, sweetheart. Only, it's not that thing that everyone's trying to steal from one another. It's not that kind of movie. No, it's that thing, that living breathing metaphor, that physical symbol of hope for a better tomorrow. It's either an object that starts off as useless but gains meaning by the end of the movie, or it's something you have to start building and finish by the last reel. The best example of the latter is the thing that Charlie Sheen decides to build in Cadence, and I know the eggheads over at Maxim will agree with me. Coming in at a close second, the model ship in Small Soldiers. In the instant case, it's a big wooden cube. Now what kinduva toy is that? Well, I'm sorry, but if you can't figure it out for yourself, you're just gonna have to suffer like I did.
Cameos and product placements abound. The magic Slinkies were good. Somebody's been waiting for years for a Slinky to do that; probably just me! Anyway, the Simpsons hadn't got to it yet. An odd mix of toys real and imagined in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. Brio? The world's largest kickball? And c'mon. That Abe Lincoln made of Lincoln Logs, that brought a smile to your face, Gen X, right? And of course, my old pal Hi Ho Kermit the Frog. I get the feeling he wrote his own material for this one.
As near as I can tell, the special effects are first rate and seamless, although Magorium's final departure looked a bit like the Le Studio Canal vanity logo. And even though the toy store is a place of infinite joy, the film's budget is limited. No wonder we spent so much time on the dialogue between the 'Mutant' and the kid, writing notes to each other through a glass window! But the end does provide a scene of crowded wonderment, and younger audiences will want to rewind that one a couple times to see what they missed the first couple times. As for the owner of the toy store dying, well, isn't that part of the kindergarten curriculum these days? Carpe diem and memento mori, you little brats!
Good double bill with: The Last Mimzy
-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan