- Rated G
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Fox Walden
Reviewed by David Medsker
n an age where most movies aimed at children are more focused on the franchising potential, merchandising, special effects and the product placement tie-in, “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” is that rare beast, a children’s movie that puts ideas ahead of everything else. “Transformers” made your kids want to buy stuff: “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” will make your kids dream up stuff, and dream big. Plus, the movie has the best cameo since Clive Owen’s appearance in “The Pink Panther.”
Dustin Hoffman is Edward Magorium, the owner of the quite literally magical toy store in the movie’s title. His store is managed by Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), a piano prodigy with a severe case of writer’s block. Molly feels stuck in life, and tells Mr. Magorium that she wants to find another job. Magorium is not at all happy to hear the news, because he was planning on giving her the store, and to make sure she does not inherit any financial grievances, Magorium hires accountant Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), whom they affectionately call Mutant, to plow through Magorium’s financial records. The store’s most loyal customer is nine-year-old Eric (Zach Mills), but much of that is due to his overactive imagination and complete lack of friends. Problems arise when the store – yes, the store – learns of Magorium’s decision to leave, and begins to rebel by turning gray and, worse, magic-free.
There is no question that the movie demands suspension of disbelief in order to appreciate its charms, but the movie’s raw enthusiasm, not to mention a whip-smart script from writer/director Zach Helm, makes it rather easy to comply to that request. The toy store is a visual marvel, and even more amazing, it’s done primarily with lo-tech effects and animatronics. The acting is what it’s supposed to be; Portman and Bateman generally stay out of the way (though Bateman has one unforgettable scene in Act III) so Hoffman can do his affected, oddball genius thing. It’s a tad much, but at the same time, it is also what the movie requires of him. Zach Mills’ Eric is quite the child character anomaly; he’s a loner, and would like to make some friends, but he also likes who he is, and doesn’t change to please anyone. How refreshing.
Yes, the title sounds like the archaic sort of thing that “The Simpsons” would, and have, lampooned (i.e. Troy McClure’s movie “The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel”), and the movie does have a certain wide-eyed obliviousness to the world in which it lives, but do not mistake that innocence for naiveté. “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” much like its character Eric, knows it’s different and doesn’t care, and when being different means being something other than “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” that is cause for celebration.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Given the movie’s poor box office performance, it should surprise no one that Fox did not go all out when it came to special features. There are five brief featurettes that cover some of the more popular props (sock monkey, Lincoln man), the story, the toy store, the character of Eric the boy, and a gag reel. There are no audio commentaries, though there is an extended scene from the upcoming “Horton Hears a Who.” Pssst: the scene isn’t that funny.