Directed by: Zach Helm
Premise: The owner of a magical toy store (Dustin Hoffman) prepares to turn over his business to his young assistant (Natalie Portman) while an accountant (Jason Bateman) attempts to make sense of the store’s financial history and befriends a young customer (Zach Mills).
What Works: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is a nice bit of light fantasy. The inside of the store is fun and there are plenty of sight gags that will induce giggles. Hoffman is fun to watch as the quirky owner, and his character comes off like the father (or at least the uncle) of Pee Wee Herman. Portman handles herself better in this fantasy than she did in the Star Wars prequels and Bateman is fun to watch as the stiff who learns to loosen his collar. It’s young Zach Mills, however, who really shines in the film. His precocious but sweet sensibility transcends the fantasy of the film, and as the future of the shop is threatened, it’s his role that saves the movie, giving the resolution of the story some dramatic weight.
What Doesn’t: The film borrows a lot from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but it lacks the wit and character of that film. Where Charlie’s descent into the Chocolate Factory was a story of wish fulfillment and temptation, there’s just not much in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium to give the future of the store or the film dramatic significance. The film becomes a collection of disconnected scenes and gags that do not add up to much. This is partly due to the story focusing on too many characters. There is no coherent point of view character in the film and the story shifts between them, resulting in incomplete characterizations. The conclusion is a let down, with nearly everyone ending in the same place that they started with and little new knowledge about themselves or the world to show for it.
Bottom Line: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is a disappointment, a film with some nice visuals but with very little substance. Audiences would be better off viewing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
Episode: #169 (December 9, 2007)