“If he were around, Virgil would be at a Friday night showing of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.”
That’s how Francis “ Chip” X. Flaherty Jr., general counsel at Walden Media, talks about Walden’s latest movie (released with Fox today), in an interview with National Review Online Editor Kathryn Lopez. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is the story of a 243-year old toy-store owner, hits theaters.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: So how much make-up did it take to make Dustin Hoffman look 243?
Francis X. Flaherty Jr.: Mr. Magorium, played brilliantly by Dustin Hoffman, has maintained a youthful visage throughout his life so we were not required to do a thing. It should be noted that Magorium fit much living into those 243 years: making toys for Napoleon (which may be the genesis for the toyshop’s generous return policy — try telling Napoleon he needs to have a receipt), arm wrestling with Abraham Lincoln, and providing Thomas Edison with the idea for the lightbulb.
Lopez: Which is better the book or the movie?
Flaherty: Well, this is one of the few Walden Media movies not based on a book. It was a script by Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction). After reading the script we knew that it would make a great family movie and Zach served as both writer and director for the film. In our ongoing effort to promote literacy, Walden Media did partner with Scholastic to publish companion books around the film. We feel that a movie can get kids’ attention, and we use that opportunity to drive home the fact that while films tell great stories, literacy is the bedrock of education, learning, and knowledge.
Lopez: Hasn’t this movie already been made? Looks a little like Willie Wonka to me?
Flaherty: Like Willy Wonka, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is visually stunning and if there is anything a kid dreams about as much as candy it is probably toys. But the movies tell very different stories, each in their own unique, inimitable, and entertaining way. It is interesting you ask the question though. Before this interview started I was looking at an archived edition of Epic Poets Illustrated and Virgil was asked why he wrote the Aeneid given that it sounded a little like Homer’s Iliad. Well his answer is long and written in iambic pentameter so I do not quote it here — but, in short, if he were around, Virgil would be at a Friday night showing of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.
Lopez: What would your kids do with a magic toyshop?
Flaherty: My definition of a magic toyshop is anyplace my credit cards aren’t declined, so I’d imagine if we found such a place, I would instruct my kids to take full advantage before the clock struck midnight.
Lopez: Beyond toys, the movie deals with a heavy topic. Should parents be warned?
Flaherty: The movie is rated G which is a rating of which we are proud. The rating shows that we have a made a film for the entire family. In the film a character dies and in that way the movie is not unlike Charlotte’s Web which we made last year and parents just loved. The issue here is dealt with gently. The character’s life is celebrated as a great life, well lived and the lesson learned is that life is an opportunity to be treasured and lived to the fullest. Magorium has a great line in the film when he says, “Life is an occasion, rise to it.”
Lopez: Can you see Mr. Magorium without kids?
Flaherty: By all means. At Walden Media we have always tried to make movies keeping in mind the C.S. Lewis quote, “a children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.” A central character in the film is Molly Mahoney, played by Natalie Portman. Molly feels that she is not ready to take over the toyshop. That feeling of being at the crossroads, seeing an opportunity but feeling that you are quite ready for it, is a theme to which all adults can relate. This truly is a film for everyone.
Lopez: How did you manage to break a Guinness book toy drive before the movie even opened?
Flaherty: We broke the record for most toys collected in one week. We did it with the incredible help of many partners, including Toys for Tots. There were stations to drop toys off all around the country, many at movie theaters. The toy drive was a great promotion because no matter what occurs in terms of film awareness, many young kids now will get toys they ordinarily would not have received. And, I love the Toys for Tots affiliation with the Marines — it is a great confidence boost to have the Marines around when you are trying to accomplish something.
Lopez: Are The Lion, the Witch… kids still kids? When do we see the next one?
Flaherty: Prince Caspian comes out next May. From what I have seen so far the movie will be as epic and as grand as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — the footage is breathtaking. Yes, the kids are still kids. In fact, in the book Prince Caspian author C. S. Lewis points out that the four Pevensie children are a year older than they were in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. During filming of Prince Caspian, all the four kids were a year older, so we were able to be faithful to Lewis’s vision.
Lopez: How does the writers strike affect you?
Flaherty: You mean other than the fact that left to my own devices, and without the help of writers, my answers here have been flat and uninspired?
Lopez: You are not doing too bad for a lawyer. What’s a Waterhorse?
Flaherty: Waterhorse is the term used by some Scottish locals to refer to the Loch Ness monster. We have a movie coming out at Christmas in which a lonely little boy is befriended by the waterhorse and the friendship changes his life forever.