Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007) Zach Helm
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman
“Mr. Magorium” is the debut feature from writer/director Zach Helm. Zach is so new, he only has 3 produced credits on IMDB. But as writer of “Stranger Than Fiction” his name quickly opened a lot of doors. He was privileged to be able to direct his first film at a ripe old age of 31. It’s a cuddly-cute children’s film about a kindly old Willy Wonka-type toymaker who brings love and happiness to kids through his magical Manhattan toy store. Helm leans heavily on the Tim Burton/Peter Pan themes, but is able to create a decent knock-off of rated G feel-goodness.
Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) is a 243 year old man-child (Pee-Wee Herman meets Willy Wonka) who operates a magical toy store in Manhattan. The store is alive in every sense of the word – children stream in and of the store with wondrous glee, stuffed animals come alive and play along with the kids – Kermit the Frog (Henson voice and all) even frequents the joint. Magorium harbours a secret though. His death is impending. He’s not sick or bed-ridden, it’s just his time to go – and he knows it. Magorium offers the store to his longtime manager Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) to own and operate. But Molly has dreams of becoming a world class piano player, touring the world and becoming famous – a dream which had been halted for years because of the needs of the store.
When Magorium passes on the store dies as well. And only a heart with an absolute belief in the healing power of magic can bring it back to life.
Dustin Hoffman is a delight as Magorium. In his older age Hoffman has embraced his supporting roles with verve. He was arguably the best part of “Meet the Fockers” and he stole his scenes in “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”. As Magorium, Hoffman essentially plays Willy Wonka, but better than Johnny Depp. As required he chews his scenery by speaking with a cartoon lisp and waddling and bouncing around like a giddy child. Few actors could get away with such zaniness.
Jason Bateman’s straight man is a good contrast to Hoffman. He plays the tight-ass accountant Henry Weston who is slowly loosened up by the shy and awkward Eric (Zach Mills). Natalie Portman does Winona Ryder very well – a petite wondergirl who loses her faith in magic. And that’s about all the characters we get. There’s no evil insurance inspector, no slimy real estate developer and not even a pushy toy conglomerate. What gives?
Mr. Magorium suffers mainly from this lack of danger or threat. There’s the looming death of Mr. Magorium, which from his point of view is embraced and welcomed with open arms. I couldn’t help but wonder (no pun intended) how the film would have played if Magorium feared his own death. This would have added a level of depth that Hoffman could have chewed off even more. Instead, there’s a blanket of lollipop goodness that permeates every frame. We’re teased with a menacing entity surrounding the building. There’s a great scene when a corner of the wallpaper starts to turn black when Magorium’s prospective death is mentioned. This threat doesn’t reveal an antagonist, but a convenient plot point to be resolved in the third act.
In the end Zach Helm tells his bubblegum story well – he pushes the right buttons to make us want to be six years old again. And there’s a moral of the story to put your kids to bed with – magic only exists with those with the capacity for the deepest unselfish love.
“Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” is now available on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.