Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

“Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” is magical in a way you would never expect a family film to be. It is moving without being too saccharine, funny without being too goofy, and exciting without being too action-packed or explosive. Wacky to the core, but irresistibly so, the film has a big heart and dares to challenge the minds of its spectators, inviting them to step into an enchanting world in which fun and ingenuity are the fruits of life and happiness.

Meet Mr. Edward Magorium (Dustin Hoffman), a 243-year-old avid shoe-wearer who started his career fabricating toys for Napoleon and later opened his very own toy store. But unlike any other store, his is a magical store, where the Playmobil figures are alive, the stuffed animals crave for a hug and rubber balls bounce around in every corner. Assisting Mr. Magorium in running the store are Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), a virtuoso pianist, and Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills), a young hat collector.

Not long into the movie, Magorium announces it is time for him to leave and hand his beloved store over to Mahoney. By leave, however, he doesn’t mean settling into retirement. No, Mr. Magorium knows he’s going to die soon, and to determine the value of the store before he retreats, he hires an accountant (Jason Bateman), whom he mistakenly calls an accounting mutant. Magorium seems to have planned his departure well, but Mahoney and Eric struggle to accept the truth, trying everything in their power to change his mind.

“Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” aims a little higher than most Hollywood family flicks that have come our way so far this year. The film still addresses common morals and popular themes familiar to the genre, but it does so not in a simplistic and excessively goofy way. In fact, the true magic in this film springs from its compelling characters and numerous exchanges of heartwarming conversations and thoughts, which even children can easily appreciate.

The central theme of the movie revolves around death and the loss of a loved one, and “Wonder Emporium” does it justice. Like most of us, Mahoney is thoroughly afraid of Magorium’s departure and tries to prevent it at any cost. But seeing the easiness with which Magorium handles his upcoming death, she quickly realizes she has no power whatsoever to hold him back. The film handles her dilemma beautifully.

The greatest, and consequently the most hilarious scenes, however, happen in the presence of Mr. Magorium himself, which explains why the film and its magic decelerate as soon as he exits the screen. He’s the heart and soul of this movie and the character everybody loves, laughs at and understands, especially the younger spectators. Magorium, via his eccentric behavior and quest for adventure, reassures his viewers that there’s a child in every grown-up. Kids will love him, and so will their parents.

Dustin Hoffman delivers a flawless performance as Mr. Magorium, and as I mentioned earlier, carries the whole film on his shoulders. Natalie Portman wins the heart of the audience by being cute, which is what she usually does. She and Hoffman share the best moments on screen. Jason Bateman has made some bad choices in selecting roles recently, but his performance as devoted accountant, is noteworthy. He shares multiple scenes with the peculiar but talented Zach Mills, who takes over the role of Eric.

The final part of the film feels rushed and almost fails to retain the energy that dominates the first two thirds. Many subplots introduced in the beginning are never finished or developed enough. When we first meet Mahoney, she’s having trouble finishing her first concerto, which keeps her from pursuing her aspirations. Sadly, we never find about what eventually happens to her. The same goes for Eric, who lives a solitary life and barely has any friends. Will he make some in the end? We will never know. The film abruptly jumps to its conclusion, leaving many questions unanswered.

A colorful production design and decent visuals add an extra flair to the story, but the one thing that really boosts the magic is the marvelous score composed by Aaron Zigman and Alexandre Desplat, two of Hollywood’s finest. First-time director Zach Helm proves he has quite an imagination, and he always has his camera at the right place at the right time (he previously wrote the screenplay for Marc Forster’s brilliant comedy “Stranger than Fiction”). “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” has some flaws popping up during the final act, but other than that, it works great as a serious children’s film with enough magic and brains.

Review by Franck Tabouring