Mr. Magorium (Hoffman) decides the time has come to leave his magical toy shop in the hands of his assistant, Mahoney (Portman). But the frustrated young woman isnt sure she has what it takes to run the Wonder Emporium.
We’re all a little strange to somebody but, hopefully, our strange ways make us a little special to somebody else. Even George Bush, Jade Goody and the Wayans brothers hold a cherished place in someone’s heart. That seems to be the message of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, a film that’s occasionally baffling, sometimes maddening, but charming enough to embody what it preaches.
Firstly, anybody expecting the same brilliantly convoluted structure and casually clever dialogue Zach Helm brought to the screenplay of the tragically underrated Stranger Than Fiction will be left yearning. But while Magorium can’t match Fiction for linguistic finesse, it can keep up with it in ideas. Sometimes it has too many for its own good and an inability to always turn them into something fulfilling, but there’s only opportunity to be bored if you’re the type who found Moulin Rouge a bit sluggishly edited.
Struggling to contain all these little bursts of whimsy is the titular Emporium, a ramshackle little building in the heart of a grey metropolis. There resides Magorium himself (a lisping, just-this-side-of-grating Hoffman), his protégé Mahoney (Portman on appealing form), friendless child Eric (the likeable Mills) and Henry (the ever-exasperated Bateman), a dour accountant who’s been brought in to balance Magorium’s books before he chooses to depart (that’s kids’ movie talk for popping his clogs).
It’s an enchanting little world full of flying rockets, fire-breathing stuffed dragons and a little woollen monkey with the saddest button eyes you ever did see. Helm’s problem is that he gets too carried away with the wonder of this world, dwelling on inconsequential toy exploits and leaving the plot abandoned in the playpen.
There’s plenty to distract the attention, but not always enough to engage the emotions. Helm may not be quite, at least yet, as exciting a director as he is a writer, but he does know the right people from whom to borrow influences in telling a story about childhood of all ages. There are hints of Tim Burton, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Steven Spielberg on show, though the film as a whole can’t hope to match those high benchmarks in terms of consistent quality.
While Magorium has many a rough edge, Helm pulls it together to hit the emotional moments square on. When he tears himself away from the shop’s creative toy box to bring two characters together he can craft something genuinely affecting - like the beautifully underplayed farewell between Magorium and Mahoney, which features the film’s best dialogue and should wring a tear from many audience eyes. His film might be manic and distracted, but when it opens up its heart, you can’t help but love it a little.
Structurally its a bit ragtag, but, as your mum would say, it has its heart in the right place. For all its wilful oddness its enchanting, imaginative and genuinely moving.