Getting adjusted to a new school—especially in the middle of a semester—is always a challenge. You’ve got classes to settle into, social hierarchies to figure out. And let’s not forget the giant snakes.
Admittedly, Amtrak-sized serpents aren’t a hazard at every school. But at the prestigious Mozart International School Academy of Music, it’s proving to be a big one for young Tim Walker.
Let’s back up a bit. Tim is a talented vocalist—certainly a worthy candidate for the Mozart Academy. It didn’t hurt that Tim’s father (a notable Mozart Academy alumni) put in a good word for his son, either. But Tim’s father was also dying, and Tim needed to be with family until his dad passed.
“When I’m gone, you go,” Tim’s dad told him from his hospital bed. And Pops gave Tim something to take back to the school, too—a lovely, leatherbound copy of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, or in English The Magic Flute.
“You need to put it back where it belongs,” the dying man said.
And so Tim did—sticking the book on a shelf underneath a fancy grandfather clock at the stroke of 3 a.m. And—
Suddenly, he’s not in the Mozart Academy anymore. He’s talking with floating orbs. Running from giant snakes. Tasked with saving the world from eternal darkness. And, perhaps strangest of all, singing entire conversations.
Yep, somehow, Tim finds himself within Mozart’s immortal opera, The Magic Flute. He’s been cast as its hero, Prince Tamino. And if he doesn’t follow the script to the letter, the world will be eternally dark. Worse yet, Tim might not become the singer he wants to be in the real world.
I’ve heard of method acting, but this is a step beyond.
One must acknowledge that saving the world from eternal darkness is, on balance, a good thing. So we can give Tim/Tamino props for trying to do that. (Someone also mentions that he clearly stands for “honor, for valor, for truth.”)
That said, we actually see more heroism on this side of the reality/fantasy divide. Paulo, Tim’s roommate, is not one of the Mozart Academy’s more popular kids. He’s tormented by the school’s parade of bullies, and it takes a toll on him. But when one of his tormentors is in danger, Paulo steps up, saves the bully and discovers the kid’s not so bad after all. (It’s suggested that Paulo might’ve chosen this route of action based on what Tim’s been doing in Magic Flute-land.)
Anton, the son of a famous opera singer, is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. But he moves in a different direction. As part of that decision, he gives Tim an unexpected opportunity.
Amadeus Mozart, composer of The Magic Flute, was a Freemason. Accordingly, a Masonic symbol—a stylized eye stuck in the middle of a triangle, called the Eye of Providence—is part of the school’s logo. A professor notes that the school (located in an old castle) is filled with Masonic Easter eggs.
The professor also notes that The Magic Flute is steeped in Masonic themes and symbolism. The movie itself points to some of those elements. It especially calls out how Mozart used the number three: “Three spirits, three ladies, three trials.” The professor also mentions three “temples” that are part of the opera: nature, reason and wisdom.
Freemasonry was also very taken with ancient Egyptian mythology, and we see plenty of nods in that direction. Statues of the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris can be seen here and there.
We hear a bit about the philosophy of determinism, a school of thought that discounts the idea of free will.
We hear about “gods” in Magic Flute-land, but there are also references to God, prayer, blessings, heaven and hell. A few characters (such as the Queen of the Night) are godlike, and Tamino converses with sprites. And, of course, there’s magic to be found everywhere—not just in the flute.
The Magic Flute turns on an odd sort of love triangle. In the real world, Tim is taken with a girl named Sophie. But in Magic Flute-land, Prince Tamino is destined to love the beautiful Princess Pamina. We see Tim/Tamino smooch one of them.
The opera itself is deeply preoccupied with love and romance. When Tim first shows up, a trio of mystical ladies tells us, through song, “If I was free to love and kiss I would choose a lovely lad like this.” (The scene can strike one as a bit awkward, given that the women are clearly adults and Tim appears to be, essentially, in high school.) When Tim first sees a vision of Pamina, he warbles about her “face so fair” and sings bout feeling “the pain of love.” When the Queen of the Night sends Tim/Tamino to rescue her daughter, she promises Pamina’s hand in marriage, should he be successful.
And certainly, Pamina needs to be rescued. When we first meet her, she’s chained to a bed by the dastardly Monostatos. He later sings about how he’s “a man, not a eunuch/I have appetites as well.” He does not act on those appetites, however; the princess’s virtue is never truly assailed.
Papageno, Tim’s helpmate in Magic Flute-land, longs to find a romantic interest—perhaps several. He’s a bird catcher, but he would love to “cast a spell to catch pretty girls as well.” (He adds that he would hug and kiss his love interest every night.) Papageno eventually does find a romantic partner. The two sing about marriage and eventually having “many mouths to feed.”
In the real world, we learn that Paulo (Tim’s roommate) grew very close with his old roommate, Benjamin. He writes him letters that include delicate drawings of Benjamin, and Paulo speaks of his incredibly strong attachment to him. We could infer that the two were romantically attached, but the exact nature of their relationship is never explicitly stated. Indeed, Paulo characterizes himself and Benjamin as “brothers in arms,” saying they could endure the teasing because they were “in it together.”
In the real world, Paulo is pushed down by bullies. A student gets his foot caught underneath a tree. We learn that a couple of characters die off-camera, and it’s suggested that one died by suicide.
In Magic Flute-land, a gigantic snake harries Tim before it’s magically killed (or, perhaps, rendered unconscious). Tim is warned that he could die on his quest, and he and the princess must endure a trial of fire and water. It’s suggested that the two nearly drown.
Someone gives the princess a knife, asking her to kill someone. We hear a reference of someone having his throat cut. A magic music box makes people dance until they fall down, exhausted and unconscious.
Five uses of “h—” and one misuse of God’s name. We hear some name-calling.
While a captive of the slave Monostatos, Princess Pamina, is found hiding in the wine cellar. “Did you at least bring me up a nice Chablis?” Monostatos asks. Papageno drinks often from a flask he carries.
Tim and Sophie sneak off together to hang out. We learn that Tim’s father “nicked”—i.e., stole—the Magic Flute book. Characters lie.
It’s appropriate that The Magic Flute takes place in, essentially, two worlds. The movie itself seems to be of two minds.
On one level, the film offers moviegoers a sort of Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter-like magical escape. It introduces them to an all-time great opera from one of the world’s most gifted composers. And it does it all in a strong, family-friendly way.
Or at least it does so superficially.
But here’s the second thing: For many families, the movie’s Masonic elements—while absolutely a part of Mozart’s 1791 opera—may strike a sour note in this cinematic aria. The pagan-tinged magic can feel a bit discordant. And while these and other potentially problematic elements can potentially be ignored or navigated, they still help pull The Magic Flute short of magical.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.