Hoffman takes the Helm
Having watched "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" I get a sense that writer and director Zach Helm was a fan of Roald Dahl's imaginative stories and in particular Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because there are similarities. From the magical world of Mr. Magorium's quirky little shop, through to the storyline of Mr. Magorium looking to his assistant Molly Mahoney to take over when he departs the influence seems clear. Not that I am criticising "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" for being familiar as it is delight to watch with so many little moments of humour to make you smile and a refreshing innocence. But the only trouble is that whilst not a long movie it struggles to keep your attention once the amazement and quirkiness of the Emporium wears off.
As a child Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith) was called a musical genius but now as a 23 year old she feels like her life is going nowhere despite loving working for Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman - Finding Neverland) at his wonderful Wonder Emporium, a store which is full of happiness and magic. But having put on the last pair of shoes he will ever wear Mr. Magorium is getting ready to depart and in order to do so he calls in accountant Henry (Jason Bateman - Juno) to work out what his Emporium is now worth before passing it on to Molly along with a wooden cube called the Congreve cube. The only trouble is the Molly not only doesn't want Mr. Magorium to go but she doesn't believe she has the magic to keep the emporium going.
Maybe it's just me but I can see a lot of Roald Dahl in Zach Helm's "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" and the storyline itself feels like it wouldn't be out of place in a Dahl book. The story is both simple and sweet as we meet Mr. Magorium who after 243 years has put on his final shoes and is ready to depart this world, handing over his emporium to his protege Molly, accept she doesn't believe in herself enough and so doesn't believe she can keep the business running. There is to be honest little more than this and with the words about believing in yourself it won't be a shock that much of what happens reinforces this message of having the strength to believe that you can do anything. And with this being a movie featuring imagination and magic it also hammers home a message about holding on to your childhood imagination before the world rips it from you.
In a way it is because the storyline is so simple that "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" suffers as once you know that it is going to be about Molly struggling with the idea of taking over there isn't anything else to bulk it out. Even sub plots surrounding the Mutant, I mean Henry the accountant, also believing and becoming a friend to young Eric doesn't add much meat to the bones. And as such by the time you hit the halfway point it begins to struggle to command your attention, well if you are an adult.
It's a shame as Zach Helm's vision is spectacular, the fantasy world inside Magorium's Emporium is the stuff that childhood dreams are made of and achieves that re-igniting of childhood memories with all the toys which have a life of their own. It's not just the Emporium as Mr. Magorium is an equally wonderful creation almost a blend of Willy Wonka with Eddie Bracken's Mr. Duncan from "Home Alone 2", totally over the top in his quirks but lovable with it. And the combination of the two provides so much humour be it a mischievous dinosaur playing behind the back of Henry or Mr. Magorium's wonderful inventions. But whilst this imaginative world of toys keeps you entertained it is only for so long and then it struggles.
Now he maybe delivering a seriously over the top performance but Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Mr. Magorium, from the way he looks to the way he acts it's simply wonderful. And Hoffman works brilliantly with all those around him be it Natalie Portman as Molly or Jason Bateman as Henry. There is a real warmth and charm when ever Hoffman is in a scene and is simply just good fun. And in a way that explains why the second half in particular the last 20 minutes struggles and unfortunately Portman on her own just doesn't deliver the quirkiness as naturally making it feel a little uneasy.
What this all boils down to is that "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" is a fun movie and will have both adults and children alike transfixed by the magical world inside the Emporium. But whilst younger audiences may stay transfixed by all the quirky creations and charming humour adults may find that the lack of solid storyline an issue as it struggles maintain the same sort of interested it did during the first half.