Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (6/10)

Henceforth, all my reviews will contain a quick little blurb at the bottom on whether or not I recommend seeing this film in theaters, waiting for DVD, or ignoring it completely. Hope you guys like this new little addition.

If any of you read my post awhile back in my blog, you will remember that I said the trailer for this film excited me nearly to the point of delirium. Well, maybe not those words exactly, but the point was that I had never seen such a gloriously wonder-filled trailer. It certainly was a superb trailer, but the better question is whether or not the film matches up to it, and I’m sad to say the answer is no. Despite being a well-intentioned and often charming outing, Magorium doesn’t rise that far above the heads of most children’s entertainment, and though the sense of wonder promised in the trailers does make an appearance in this film, the slightly bland and cliched story and the clumsy pulling off of the theme keep it from being that much of a success. The opening credits are reminiscent of Monsters, Inc., only they feel much more forced and unnecessary and hardly carry any charm at all. It’s almost as if the visual artists are trying to shove fancy and charm down our throats.
Mr. Magorium, played by Dustin Hoffman, is a 243-year old magical toy-store owner (the toy store’s magical; not him – well, maybe him too. Never mind) who is about to bequeath his store to the young Mahoney, played by Natalie Portman. Jason Bateman figures in the story too as an accountant whom everybody calls mutant, because, obviously, accountant is a combination of a counter and a mutant. He’s there to get the affairs of Magorium in order before he leaves. Meanwhile, Mahoney has been working on a concerto to fulfill her potential in piano-playing, and Zach Mills plays Eric Applebaum, a loner kid whose sole purpose throughout the entire movie is making a friend. If none of these premises strike you as that exciting, then rest assured, you are not alone.

Yes, the premise is thin, and yes, the conflict isn’t really that prevalent at all throughout the movie, so why am I giving this film a “thumbs up” and recommending it? Well, one of the main reasons is the fantastic cast. Natalie Portman is the most exuberant of the bunch, as she plays Mahoney with a sense a childlike wonder that is grappling with the reality of the adult world and struggling to believe in the magic of the store. The fairly talented Bateman adds some satirical flair to his character and he seems to be the only one who doesn’t know he’s in a kids movie. Zach Mills plays the young Eric with enthusiasm and quiet vigor, though at times his immaturity as an actor shows in scenes where he overacts or doesn’t act at all. Dustin Hoffman as Magorium is a mixed bag. At times he feels too much like he’s trying to be the younger retarded brother of Willy Wonka, and others you can feel a real sense of magic exuding from him. The biggest problem with his character is that he doesn’t really seem that smart – sure, he believes in magic, but he makes incredibly stupid business decisions, walks around everywhere whimsically, and seems constructed straight out of a two-year old’s storybook. The phrase “one-dimensional” has never been more directly applicable to a movie character, but the magic of the whole thing is that Hoffman’s charisma and sheer affability make Magorium into a real wonder. On the whole, the level to which these actors believe and commit themselves to their characters makes this movie work like none other. If anybody else had played the parts, I’m convinced it would have been a dull mess.

Another reason for liking this movie and not hating it is moments where I was literally soaring along with the characters. Some had the feel of very forced quirkiness, as when a young boy stumbles into the “ball room”, full of bouncing balls and one giant red dodge ball that quickly chases him out. Others, such as the climax of the entire affair, or when Mahoney takes Magorium around town to experience the little wonders of life, are so full of small wonders that it overshadowed the in-your-face magic of the store. Bateman’s character is oblivious to all the magic that is going on around him, which could get annoying, but actually works because when you get right down to it, this movie is about noticing the little wonders of life, and how much you can miss them when you’re not watching. Unfortunately the screen gets cluttered up with a lot of loud noises and flashing colors that don’t serve as anything other than the most obvious metaphor in the world. If subtlety had been added, a long with a little more storytelling, this could be a real gem.

I’ve always been proud of being a kid at heart, and despite its flaws, Magorium spoke to me that way. It’s not one of those films that’s so bad that you’d be ashamed to let your kids watch it, but the kind of film that has a good heart but just didn’t know how to make it work quite right. It’s no gem or jewel, but it’s still fun and just a little bit magical.

If you want to sit back and feel like a kid again amidst all the dreck that hits theaters this time of year (Alvin and the Chipmunks comes out next week) then Magorium could be your ticket. However, if you consider yourself a firm adult, best to leave Mr. Magorium be.


One Response to “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (6/10)”

  1. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

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