Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Directed by Zach Helm. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman, Zach Mills, Ted Ludzik, Rebecca Northan, Matt Baram, Kiele Sanchez. (2007, G, 109 min.)
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Nov. 16, 2007
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is more than just a movie. It’s a whole world of magic, delight, and whimsy. It’s a wonderfully whimsical place where toy dinosaurs and sock monkeys come to life, where there are entire rooms filled with rubber balls bouncing all the time, where kids can run and scream and squeal to their hearts’ content and play Duck, Duck Goose with real geese. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium has whimsy coming out of its ears. The man behind the man behind the onscreen emporium is writer/director Helm, the creator of 2006’s Stranger Than Fiction, which was also whimsical but had the common decency to be cynical as well and to co-star Emma Thompson, who made smoking look more essential to a full and happy life than any actor since Humphrey Bogart. Now the brakes are off, however, and Helm can feel free to give voice to all his passion for childlike eccentricity without all the baggage that comes with making a movie for adults. What he’s come up with is a toy store run by a gleeful 200-year-old man-child (Hoffman), whose greatest joys are seeing kids indulge their imaginations and impersonating Willy Wonka. At his side are Molly Mahoney (Portman), a former child-prodigy piano player who has since grown up into simply a piano player, with little hope in the future or belief in herself; Eric Applebaum (Mills), a precocious 10-year-old with a passion for funny hats and no friends his own age; and Henry Weston (Bateman), an accountant who wears a tie to work, meaning he’s lost touch with his inner child (God bless him). Rounding into his third century on the planet, Mr. Magorium decides he’s going to check out of this life but not before making sure all of his charges have redeemed their miserable little souls by giving themselves over to the joys of childlike wonder. With his incessant cackling and jigging and adorable lisp, Hoffman is an unbearable force of nature, while Portman is disappointing as a young adult stuck in neutral; you can’t help thinking there would have been more life to her character if she and Helm had bothered to think for a minute about all the grown-ups who are going to be dragged to this thing again and again, world without end. The film’s one saving grace is Bateman, the only actor on set who seems unwilling to give himself over to Magorium’s philosophy that the key to a fulfilling life can only be found in pathological regression. Maybe he just needs more whimsy in his life.