Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
94 min.
Release Date
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium desperately wishes it was as fun and timeless as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a virtual carbon copy, right down to the title font. In each we have an impresario of child-based retail (Magorium’s toys, Wonka’s chocolate) handing over his legacy to a crestfallen youth. The heir earns his or her way by believing in themselves, something their failures in life, up to this point, have prevented. Both movies have strong messages for children, and both force you to question why the respective progenitor is a child-obsessed loner.

Mr. Magorium has lived for 243 years, running the oldest toy shop in New York City, or anywhere else for that matter. He’s a short, curious figure with electro-shock hair, bushy eyebrows, and a lisp drawing from his massive overbite. Magorium insists that he be referred to as an “avid shoe-wearer” and pointedly “not Steve.” He also likes to insult zebras. Dustin Hoffman plays him with a surprising amount of energy and well-placed comic timing, despite that overplayed lisp and jokes aimed at six-year olds.

Magorium plans to (finally) depart, leaving his store to Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), a disenchanted twenty-something whose career as a pianist never took off the way she had hoped. Mahoney is the store’s manager, running it apparently from open to close, with the help of a 9-year-old boy named Eric Appleabaum (Zach Mills), who narrates the picture, introducing its various chapters. (Note: You’ll enjoy the movie more if you ignore that Eric’s mother is ignorant to her son spending every waking hour hanging around a weirdo toy store owner and working underage without pay.)

Before Magorium departs, he must assess the store’s worth. This plot device brings in accountant Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), whom everyone calls Mutant (because Magorium deduces that the “accountant” title comes from the words “counting” and “mutant”—a joke that’s funny for the first half-hour, annoying during the second, and then funny again by the end. What Mutant doesn’t realize (or believe) is that Mr. Magorium’s store is enchanted with the kind of sparkle-frenzied magic we’d expect from a Disney logo. In fact, the word “magic”, or derivations thereof, are said so often that I was compelled to look up synonyms for writing this review. Perhaps if first time writer-director Zack Helm had used the thesaurus occasionally, we wouldn’t cringe whenever Portman’s face lights up to declare Margorium’s store is… ahem… the “M” word.

Magorium, as well as his ability to bring out the hocus-pocus in any toy-like object, is fading. Mahoney’s dwindling faith in herself isn’t helping matters and causes the store to dry up and turn gray. And so we get a number of believe-in-yourself speeches, well enough for younger viewers, but tedious for anyone older than ten. With Academy Award-winner Hoffman, experienced actress Portman, and the deadpan comedy stylings of Bateman present, how strange is it that the movie’s best performance comes from child actor Zach Mills? Mills’ character retains every quality of Magorium and would be the logical recipient of the store, if only he wasn’t 9. He too is a loner, collects and wears a new hat every day, loves the simplicity of uncomplicated toys, and will probably live to be 240-plus years. Perhaps, if Mr. Magorium does well in theaters, there will be a sequel where the store’s torch passes to Eric. Although, I can’t think of a word meaning “store” or “emporium” that rhymes with “Applebaum”.

As you’ve probably asked yourself how Magorium has lived for two centuries, I suggest you start wondering how his shop remains a profitable business, exclusively selling toys that look produced between 1930 and 1950. There’s no Harry Potter, Barbie, Transformers, Bratz (thank goodness), Spider-Man, or My Little Pony. Children don’t seem to have computers or videogames in the crazy universe of this film either. And why are there seemingly parentless kids always running about Magorium’s store? I suppose logic is exactly what this movie argues against, as it’s constructed solely for the six-year-old in the audience, be it literal, or figurative portion of an adult personality.

The movie’s goofiness is exceedingly uncomplicated, though forced, such as popping bubble wrapping for a laugh—one of life’s minute joys to be sure, but all-too-often used in movies. Adults are almost immediately ostracized from the material by constant, stupid humor, despite the script jerking the occasional warm moment. Young age groups to which this movie appeals cannot attend theaters alone (or at least I would hope not), thus parents are forced to tag along and endure it. Zach Helm forgets to consider this in his writing, torturing the older half of his audience.

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