Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium was all but forgotten until last month, when it was a punchline in Breaking Bad. I'd even forgotten that I reviewed it for the (sadly departed) Event Guide....
MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman and Jason Bateman
Written and directed by Zach Helm
So, Zach Helm, at the tender age of 26 you have written ‘Stranger than Fiction’. While not universally adored, it’s certainly a film that all involved should be very proud of- a sweet, intelligent picture. Barely 30 and with
at your feet, you make your
directorial debut. It stars Dustin Hoffman as the owner of a magical toy store
and is called ‘Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium’. Really? Seriously? Mr. Helm’s agent must be nursing an impressive
collection of ulcers and other psychosomatic maladies. Hollywood
Though it sounds like the name of a decidedly grown-up establishment you might find in a seedy corner of
the titular emporium is strictly for kids. Magorium (Hoffman) is a toymaker and
sort-of magician who owns the store, while failed classical musician Molly
(Natalie Portman) manages. Bangkok
The shop is magical- ping pong balls try to escape, grumpy slinkies slink backwards and so on. Magical things happen, but it never feels enchanted, perhaps because there’s surprisingly little imagination and life in the way that the toys become animated. Kermit the Frog also shops there and is seen in a brief cameo, though his appearance as the only fictional character from another kids’ movie is distracting and curious. Perhaps the other muppets have better agents?
Jason Bateman also shows up as Henry, a stick-in-the-mud accountant hired to sort the paperwork needed for Mr. Magorium’s impending departure and for Molly to take over the shop.
There really is little more to the film. Henry (predictably) learns to loosen up, Molly, though resistant to owning the shop (predictably) caves and Magorium (thankfully) finally fecks off.
Yes, Dustin Hoffman’s Mr. Magorium was always going to be a tricky performance. Wearing striped clothes and speaking in a funny voice that sounds like Buffalo Bill in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ are not qualities that might automatically endear one to children. By comparison, Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka (to which Mr Magorium owes a huge debt) spoke matter-of-factly and wore his eccentricity like a favourite coat. Hoffman and the filmmakers, however, seem to be busting a gut to try to make us like both Mr Magorium and his damned emporium- from the intrusive, non-stop high-key music to the endless shots of wide-eyed kids making golly gosh faces.
Here’s a tip for makers of children’s films: kids don’t like cheap old-fashioned toys any more and they certainly don’t like it when you speak in a funny voice for too long.