This week I was trapped in an aluminum tube with the movie, Mr. Magorium’s Magical Emporium. This is a piece of fluff that wastes Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman on a deeply vacuous story about a magic toy store, and how you can do anything you want if you only believe, and how accountants and grownups who work for a living are boring and need liberating by authentic people, like children, in touch with joy and love…I could, in Dorothy Parker’s immortal words, fwow up. In this movie, the toys are cast in the role usually given to Italians; actually the kid is eerily being the grownup for infantile adults, a little like the doomed hero of “The Rocking Horse Winner”.
What I realized later, though, is that it is not only a cheap piece of kitsch, but also inadvertently illustrates the problem I discussed in a post before Christmas, which is the way we are dumbing down kids’ environment by giving them toys that can’t really be played with, but only played in the sense that one plays a CD. In the whole movie, I recall only one scene in which any kid is actually playing with any of the zillion toys in the toy store at the center of the story, or anywhere else, and that scene involves an adult and a child playing dress-up parts with the help of a bunch of no-tech hats.Instead, the toys, with gee-whiz special effects, play by themselves and the kids watch. A bunch of balls fly up in the air…but no kid ever catches or throw a ball. Flying things zoom around. Dolls wave their arms. Everything lights up and flashes and turns colors…but the only thing the kids ever do is watch and speak the line “oooh!”, and sometimes the line “aaah!”. The juvenile lead actually interacts with a ball once…but it’s a room-sized playground ball that autonomously chases him and squashes him (no harm done) against a wall. The movie is playing the audience, in exactly the wrong way, and the toys are playing the kids. Good toys don’t come alive, they make kids come alive!
It’s cynical, manipulative and finally profoundly sad.