Talking Movies

December 22, 2019

Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium rounds up so much A-list Jewish talent for a festive kid’s flick that it is the unofficial Hannukah film for 2007. And all the better for it, there is more generosity of spirit on display here than in all this year’s ‘Christmas’ films combined. I mean, Fred Claus? Please… If you want mean-spirited trash check that out, if you want very sweet fun turn to Mr Magorium where Dustin Hoffman adds another loveable eccentric to his recent turns in Meet the Fockers and Stranger than Fiction as Magorium, a toy store owner who gave Thomas Edison the idea for the light-bulb. Natalie Portman’s struggling composer Molly Mahoney has a hit a creative dead end in writing her piano concerto while she works as an assistant, helping the 243 year old Mr Magorium run his magical toy store. Her life is about to be turned upside down along with that of lonely child (and avid hat collector) Eric.

Mr Magorium hires an accountant Henry Weston to sort out the store’s tangled tax status so that he can bequeath it to his protégé Molly. Magorium considers that the word accountant must be a cross between a counter and mutant so amusingly all concerned refer to Henry to his face as ‘Mutant’. Jason Bateman as Henry reacts to this with his trademark comedic dead-pan but without the sharp one-liners of Arrested Development he’s somewhat wasted here.  He does have some wonderful moments though. A scene where Molly tries to convince an uncomprehending Henry that the store is magical while he keeps just missing a wooden dinosaur behind (that is playing with a ball in the most endearingly dopey fashion) is painfully funny.

Quirks abound from Eric’s capital collection of hats to Molly’s habit of always moving one hand about trying to find the right notes to finish her stalled piano concerto which we hear tinkling on the soundtrack as she twiddles her fingers. These all proclaim that this is a film from the off-kilter imagination of Stranger than Fiction writer Zach Helm. As a debutante director he’s drawn good performances from his cast but this film is just a bit too insubstantial to truly satisfy. Natalie Portman as Molly Mahoney exemplifies this odd feeling of unfulfilled promise as she is good but not outstanding. It’s also hard not to feel that Portman should have moved on to the great roles by now, especially when 20 year old Ellen Page is earning rave reviews of the sort that Portman used to get for her turn in Juno, rather than appearing in kid’s films even if it is alongside Dustin Hoffman. Helm wrote one of the best and most startlingly original films of 2006, but this is merely good fun.

3/5

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