Thursday, April 06, 2023

The Portable Door, on MGM+

Paul Carpenter and Sophie Pettingel are too old for Hogwarts. At this point, they are mostly kind of adults. Fortunately, the J.W. Wells & Co offers a sort of magical management training program. The tweedy firm administers fateful coincidences and serendipity, for a fee, but it takes Carpenter a few beats to figure that out. He was only hired thanks to providential happenstance and dumb luck. Nevertheless, he must navigate the company’s magical intrigues in Jeffrey Walker’s The Portable Door, based on Tom Holt’s YA novel, which premieres Saturday on MGM+.

Carpenter needs a job, any job, so when an odd chain of events leads him away from a barista interview to the mysterious Wells Company, he goes ahead and applies for the open position they have posted. The new CEO, Humphrey Wells seems to give Carpenter’s explanation more credence than the rest of the board interviewing him, but sure enough, he lands the paid internship.

Initially, he gets the cold shoulder from his officemate, Pettingel. She is on the management training fast track, because she is an actual seer. Carpenter isn’t sure what his place in the fantastical company could be, but Wells (who just succeeded his missing father) is convinced he has divination powers that can find the Portable Door, a magical portal device that theoretically takes users anywhere they want to go. However, in practice, the door can be a bit unpredictable.

Co-produced by the Jim Henson Company,
Portable Door is an upbeat fantasy with a lot of visually distinctive world-building. The creature creations are as charming as you would expect from the Henson team (including goblins and baby dragons), but the target audience definitely skews young. The energy is high throughout the film, but not so much the intensity level.

Regardless, Patrick Gibson and Sophie Wilde are quite nice together as Carpenter and Pettingel. The great Sam Neill looks like he had a jolly good time hamming it up as Dennis Tanner, their officious supervisor. Likewise, Christoph Waltz spreads around his usual snark and smarm as Wells (jr. and sr.), but Miranda Otto might upstage them both as fellow board-member, haughty Countess Judy.

Portable Door
is an eager-to-please family fantasy that is reasonably inclusive, without getting slavishly woke. The visual effects are decent and the possibilities represented by the door itself are duly mined for their full entertainment value. It is not the Lord of the Rings films, but it is way better than the de-Tolkien-ized series. Recommended for fans of Rowling and Riordan, The Portable Door starts streaming Saturday (4/8) on MGM+.