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Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium Review
on November 28, 2007
For a film focusing heavily on believing in magic, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is surprisingly devoid of the magic of moviemaking. Several cliché characters and a story missing any real conflict produces a whimsically dreary tale best reserved for the young at heart and absent of mind. While its target audience will likely find plenty to enjoy in the Emporium, fans of Hoffman and Portman will want to wait for more meaningful ventures.
Narrated by young Eric (Zach Mills) and told like a storybook complete with chapters, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium tells the tale of exactly that. The eccentric 243-year-old toy aficionado (Dustin Hoffman) runs a magical toy store with little care in the world. But when he decides it's time to depart from this life and wills the store to Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), the Emporium's manager and only other employee (save for the strange circus reject living in the basement), she questions her ability to handle such promotion and determines to make Magorium realize all the fun he would be leaving behind. Meanwhile, Magorium has hired Henry (Jason Bateman) to sort out the mess of receipts and legal requirements of running a business, and it's up to Eric (and a mystical wooden cube) to show both the stuffy accountant and the insecure Molly the magic of believing in yourself.
Deceptively opening with Pixar-esque cutout animation during its credits, such frills are the only thing Magorium has in common with the ever-entertaining computer animated films. Stocked with unremarkable characters, the situations they are confronted with range from death to disbelief, though rarely do we feel attached enough to care. The conflicts never feel immediate and the solutions don't stay grounded in reality. Perhaps the most pressing predicament is a saddened, personified toy store quickly losing its color, or a mopey sock monkey without someone to hold.
Magorium has an impressive cast in likely their least impressive performances. Dustin Hoffman as the gray-haired, bushy-eyebrowed title character grates on the nerves rather quickly with his too-cheerful quips and contrived speech impediment. If Willy Wonka wasn't cool, and owned a toy store instead of a chocolate factory, he'd be Mr. Magorium. Natalie Portman is believable as a cheery toy store manager, and even as a piano prodigy, but rarely does she evoke any emotions from her audience other than regret for not watching her other, better roles. Jason Bateman fits as the workaholic accountant who needs to believe in magic for others to believe in themselves, but too little focus is placed on his character development. He's not an antagonist and no one needs to work all that hard to make a believer out of him. In fact, there is no villain in this film at all, unless the sandman's gritty fingers reaching for your eyelids counts.
While rather languid in the story department, the effects and set designers likely had a field day with the living Emporium, piled high with all manner of games and toys. Animated mobiles, graying walls, and a monstrous dodgeball highlight the special effects, and what wasn't computer generated appeared painstakingly crafted. The dial that changes the rooms of the store also added to the creative feats, though its too bad Miyazaki showcased the concept in Howl's Moving Castle several years earlier.
If one tried very hard they might be able to sink into the magical world of Mr. Magorium and his living toy store, and at times might even realize the important lessons on display, from believing in yourself to the value of friendship. But flying wooden cubes and sad sock puppets mixed with Shakespearean quotes and misbehaved zebras will probably make you forget about such trivial morals.
- Joel Massie