Director: Zach Helm
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Zach Mills, Jason Bateman
Watch Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium online in the UK: Netflix UK
As we age, our tolerance for whimsy decreases; the scale from one to vomiting has half the interim stages. Perhaps we lose touch with our inner child, but at some point grown-ups start to stop liking the schmaltzy stuff. Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, the directorial debut of writer Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction), will clarify your boundaries.
Mr. Edward Magorium (Hoffman) is 243 years old and loves toys, selling magical contraptions to kids of all ages in his Wonder Emporium™. From balls that bounce to bears that hug, the store stocks everything. It even has a bald guy who lives in the basement. He’s called Bellini. He writes books.
Behind the counter is former piano prodigy Molly Mahoney (Portman). She’s trying to fulfil her potential. Bless. Equally lost in the existential ether is Eric (Mills), the little boy with no friends but lots of hats. He tries to befriend the accountant, Henry (Bateman). What’s an accountant? Why, it’s a cross between a counter and a mutant! Of course!
Things change when Mr. Magorium decides to depart – no, not die – and so the shop throws a strop and Molly loses faith in herself. Oh dear. Meanwhile, Henry goes to Eric’s house and plays with his hats. Who can blame him?
The cast do their best. The charming Zach channels his quirkiness through his extraordinary ears. Portman tries hard, but it’s difficult to care about her struggle to figure out the “congrieve cube” Magorium gives to her. Luckily, Henry is on hand to help with some sage life wisdom: “You are the block of wood,” he declares. He got that one right.
As the titular wizard of wackiness, meanwhile, Hoffman excels. His Willy Wonka is loveable, warm and a snappy dresser. Sporting bushy eyebrows but precious little prosthetics, his eccentricity comes from the heart and carries this mixed bag, creating moments of genuine humour and tenderness. At times, though, the feel-good formula is so forced down your throat it sticks – chapter titles like “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” are read aloud every 10 minutes. It gets old.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.