Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

As entirely whimsical as it sounds, Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is an enjoyably simple and childish flight of fancy for the festive period. How jolly and fitting for this time of year.

All very well if you are a child, sadly not so great if you’re the adult stumping up for that flight’s tickets. From Willy Wonka to Shrek, a decent family film also operates above the basic juvenile adventure to provide us big kids with a bit of worthwhile entertainment, too. Sadly, this is where this Emporium is less than wonderful and the more you look past its colourful packaging, the emptier you find the box.

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Dustin Hoffman plays Mr Magorium, the 243-year-old owner of the most fantastical toyshop. Not only do the toys seem alive, the very shop itself sparkles and thrives on the magic and manic fun of all the young shoppers. Helping Magorium is his diffident manager Molly Mahoney, played by Natalie Portman. She is, of course, delightful, charming and immutably earnest, furthered to the point of diabetes by the fact that she is also a virtuoso piano player struggling to write her first symphony. She, in turn, is aided in the shop by long-time visitor and quirky loner kid Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills). Oh, and there’s also a guy living in the bowels of the shop making books.

Magorium invites literally by-the-numbers accountant Henry (Jason Bateman) into the fold to get the books in some semblance of order, although Mahoney is distrustful of his pragmatic scepticism. But she has bigger worries when Magorium announces he is passing the running of the shop to her as "it’s time for him to go" (that’s U-rated talk for "cark it"). Then the toyshop itself throws a tantrum at the news, turning everything to a sullen, sulky grey. Can Mahoney find the magic to put things right, and maybe finish her music?

Does Hoffman ham it up like Porky the Pig?

It’s a kids' movie with a very simple, wholesome message at the end of the day and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Well, thinking about it, centralising Portman’s adult character for youngsters to identify with, rather than Mills’ socially shy Eric, does seem a bit misguided. Given that we then never see her finish her composition leaves you feeling decidedly short-changed without a receipt, too. And why don’t we get to see what’s in those other magical rooms, which seemed so important that they got their own introductions? And what happens to friendless Eric? And Henry? And what about that bloody bookmaker? And …

To anyone packing a couple of decades the film soon turns into an inconsequential mess of Slinky-sized plot holes as soon as you give it a second thought. It’s a disappointing delivery from writer-director Zach Helm, who previously scripted the impressive Stranger Than Fiction. Magorium is told in page-turning chapters and feels like it ends one or two too short of the complete book. A couple more would have tied things together and actually got the tears rolling. As it is, it’s best to just admire the pretty colours, check the kids aren’t choking on their popcorn and then forget about it - although Hoffman’s turn as the peculiar Magorium will still be ringing in your ears.

With mad professor hair and eyebrows he’s a 52-trick card pack of small-stepping eccentricities and Hoffman plays it with determined consistency. Unfortunately he ruins what could have been a memorable role by mugging along with a skewed mouth and a wholly irritating squeaky voice. He walks like his Rain Man, is as kooky as Gene Wilder’s Wonka and sounds like John Hurt’s Elephant Man. When he’s eating. It’s so overdone that adults will just see the actor and little of the intended character.

The slight writing also gives Portman and Bateman little to work with and both come out looking flat. In fact, young Zach Mills is the only one who comes out of this with his dignity intact. No mean feat for a lad of his diminutive age when his seniors are splashing their way through the sieve of a script. A cameo-ing Kermit the Frog keeps his end up as well.

Lump in some gratuitous product placement and it all feels far less magical than the stylish opening credits first promised. Still, it seemed to keep the young kids diverted for a while, which is plus for most people at this time of year, although Enchanted might leave everyone feeling a bit more satisfied.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2007
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Can a magical toy shop survive the loss of its creator?
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Read more Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium reviews:

Jennie Kermode ***

Director: Zach Helm

Writer: Zach Helm

Starring: Natalie Portman, Dustin Hoffman, Zach Mills, Jason Bateman, Ted Ludzik, Mike Realba, Steve Whitmire, Liam Powley-Webster, Marcia Bennett

Year: 2007

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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