Natalie Portman and Dustin Hoffman headline “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.” Hoffman does not play an autistic man; he does not portray a na’ve “Graduate” nor a streetwise “Midnight Cowboy.” Portman does not dance scantily clad; she stays away from New Jersey and is not a queen/senator in a galaxy far, far away. With all this being said, the solid performances by both Hoffman and Portman in “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” help bring back the family movie. “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” refers to a magical toy store run by an eccentric Edward Magorium (Hoffman). Molley Mahoney (Portman) is Magorium’s manager/apprentice. Mr. Magorium brings in an accountant – named Henry (Jason Bateman) – to try and organize the store’s finances. The store creates an enchanted atmosphere to facilitate impossible events. For the store to continue displaying magical properties, the patrons and workers need to believe in the store. When Mahoney’s faith in magic is questioned, Henry and a little boy without any friends (Zach Mills) must make Mahoney believe again.
The two main themes of the story are not novel ideas. The first addresses the common childhood misconception that “If one believes in magic then they can make it real.” The second involves the favorite after-school special moral, “If one believes in themselves then that person can accomplish anything.” These ideas are common themes found in children’s stories and in family movies. This makes it hard to try and present this material in a way to keep parents and/or non-adolescents interested in the movie. To accomplish this, the writer hid many jokes in the film that young children would not recognize. Many “family” films no longer care about entertaining the parents or older siblings and in turn are excruciatingly painful to watch. Those “family” movies just want to keep the youngsters happy, so their parents will purchase overpriced merchandise from that film. “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” returned to the classic style of family film and made it not only tolerable, but enjoyable to watch.
This film marks the directorial debut of Zach Helm. Helm wrote the film “Stranger than Fiction” (starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson) and wrote “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” as well. The choices that Helm uses in creating the magical elements of the toy store come across wonderfully on the screen. There is a book that produces any toy imaginable, and a magical door (reminiscent of “Howl’s Moving Castle”) that leads to multiple hidden sections of the store, where books/toys that come to life. Helm made the right choice to write and direct “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” because there is an apparent cohesiveness between these two aspects of the film. If Helm did not direct this film, then many of the subtleties of the store would have been lost. Helm also made the right decision by casting Hoffman as the title character.
Helm previously worked with Hoffman on “Stranger than Fiction.” This experience led Helm to cast Hoffman as the over-the-top, if not mentally ill, store owner in “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.” Hoffman does not disappoint as the 243-year old purveyor of toys. His performance came across as a mix between Willy Wonka and the Mad Hatter from the 1951 Disney classic “Alice in Wonderland.” Hoffman gained most of his acting acknowledgment for his portrayal of realistic characters (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Graduate,” “Rain Man,” along with many others), but he does a wonderful job portraying fantasy characters as well. In “Hook” (another fantastic family film) Hoffman did a superb job of depicting the paranoid pirate captain. His previous experience working with children becomes evident through his on-screen chemistry with the young store patrons. The interaction between Hoffman and the children is supported by the performance of Portman.
Portman’s acting career began receiving critical acclaim when she played Mathilda in “The Professional” at the age of 13. Portman started acting at a young age, which has allowed her to participate in many different film genres. These range from science fiction (“Star Wars Episodes 1-3”) to romantic comedies (“Garden State”). “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” became Portman’s first crack at the family film genre. She did not disappoint. She uses her facial expressions to display jubilation, show sorrow, and to show wonder and excitement (very similar to a child).
The only issue with Portman’s performance has to do with the way she looks. Just like in “V for Vendetta,” Portman presents a unique, if not disturbing, hairstyle. The hairstyle resembles a juvenile boy. It’s kind of creepy considering her character works at a toy store and the majority of the patrons are young boys. If one can ignore Portman’s hairstyle, this film delivers as a top-notch family film.
Soon families will be coming together for the holidays. The holiday season brings many family movies because movies are an easy activity that any family member-whether old or young-can enjoy. If you are with your family this upcoming break and everyone is getting a little cabin fever, you should recommend going to see “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.” This movie will surely be a family favorite for many years to come.
Tom Pittman is a fourth-year student majoring in psychology with a minor math. He can be reached at TP623014@wcupa.edu.