Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
March 3, 2008
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007) champions classic toys and the stores that used to carry them before the proliferation of chain stores like Toys R Us and Wal-Mart made them virtually extinct. In this age of crass commercialism, this film celebrates idealism and imagination – things that our world so desperately needs.
Before he plans to leave his toy store and have his apprentice, Molly Mahoney (Portman), take over, the wildly eccentric Mr. Magorium (Hoffman) hires accountant Henry Weston (Bateman) to get his finances in order. However, she’s not interested in the job because she yearns to become a concert pianist and write her own music. Eric (Mills) is a young boy without any friends his age and frequents the Emporium, a treasure trove of old school toys: train sets, puppets, stuffed animals, Slinky’s, LEGOs, and so on. Once Magorium makes his intentions known, the store begins to act out by gradually decaying in response to the negative emotions that Molly projects and exasperated by the bland Henry. The store’s increasingly negative acts reach a critical mass and it is up to Eric, Henry, and Molly to remedy the situation.
Dustin Hoffman portrays Magorium as an optimistic Willy Wonka-type who is a genius toy maker and has a pet zebra in his home. He runs a magical toy store complete with an enormous book that lists the store’s entire inventory and going to the appropriate page magically produces said toy. Each character has their own dilemma to resolve: Eric has to make a friend; Henry has to learn how to have fun, and Molly’s desire to create music instead of running the Emporium. The cast is uniformly excellent, from Natalie Portman’s engaging turn as Molly to Jason Bateman as the button-down accountant.
There is an absolutely charming scene where Henry and Eric communicate on opposite sides of a pane of glass via handwritten messages to the Cat Stevens’ song, “Don’t Be Shy” that demonstrates director Zach Helm’s skill a visual storyteller. It was at this moment that I wondered if he is a fan of Hal Ashby’s films as this song was used prominently in Harold and Maude (1971). This hunch was confirmed with Ashby’s surname popping up in a scene as a store name. It is these little touches, like the nervous slinky or the gigantic dodge ball that fills an entire room or Magorium’s hospital room at night decorated with many glow-in-the-dark stars, that make this film such a joy to watch.
He adopts a vibrant colour scheme with the larger shocks of colour being primary in nature and then the smaller details (toys and clothes) comprised of secondary and tertiary colours. For example, the hospital that Magorium stays in is dominated by golden yellows while warm, brown wood dominates the Emporium. The entire film is like a giant box of Crayola crayons exploded all over it.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is not at all what I expected it to be (to be honest, I had little to no expectations) and was pleasantly surprised by how charming and imaginative this film turned out to be. It makes a convincing argument for keeping magic and wonderment alive. So often we grow up and either lose or ignore these feelings. There’s more to life than dollars and sense. Mr. Magorium is a wonderful film that appeals to your heart without being so obviously manipulative and celebrates imagination over conformity. It also appeals to children with condescending to them and to adults who haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a kid.
“Strangely Weird and Weirdly Strange: The Magical World of a Wonder Emporium” is comprised of four featurettes that take brief looks at various aspects of the film. The first one features cast and crew praising director Zach Helm. Another takes a look at how the Sock Monkey puppet works. We also see how the production dealt with an actual zebra on the set. Finally, we see how the life-sized sculpture of President Abraham Lincoln was made entirely out of Lincoln Logs.
“An Eccentric Boss and An Awkward Apprentice” takes a look at the characters of Mr. Magorium and Molly Mahoney. Not surprisingly, the actors were drawn to the project because of the well-written script. Cast and crew speak highly of Hoffman and Portman. The two actors describe their characters.
“To Meet Eric Applebaum, Start by Saying Hi” takes a look at Eric and the actor who plays him, Zach Mills. Like the previous featurette, the character is described and the actor is praised. He was picked out of 1,200 other kids.
“The Magical Toy Store” examines the fantastic set that was the toy store. Helm and the production designer worked together to create a big playground for kids. They wanted to create the impression that the store really existed. There’s also footage of this set being constructed.
Finally, there is “Fun on the Set,” a montage of the cast and crew goofing around on and off the set.