In writer-director Zach Helm’s whimsical 2007 film, MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM, veteran actor Dustin Hoffman plays the title character, a 243-year-old toy-store owner who is ready to pass his enchanted business on to his beloved assistant, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman). However, when Molly, a former composer and pianist, has doubts about taking over the (literally) magical store, and an uptight accountant (Jason Bateman) appears to assess the establishment, the many inhabitants of the Wonder Emporium begin to rebel, resulting in a chaotic situation that can be fixed only with the help of a shy, lonely boy (Zach Mills). A first-time director best known for his inventive STRANGER THAN FICTION screenplay, Helm ably–ahem–helms EMPORIUM, which clearly nods to the WONKA and TOY STORY movies without seeming derivative. Always one to dive gamely into a quirky role (see TOOTSIE, RAIN MAN, HOOK, etc.), Hoffman makes Magorium both silly and endearing, while Portman charms as his earnest protégé, and Bateman provides an enjoyable level of skepticism while enduring the nickname “The Mutant.” Although the film’s playful quality could veer toward excess, its thoughtful script and able actors allow it to stand out as a highly entertaining production.
It’s hard to point to the exact moment that the movie went from bad to horrible. Either it was the second Hoffman showed up on the screen or when Mr.Magorium announces he is 243 years old. The biggest surprise of all is that Natalie Portman ended up in this movie. Usually Portman is bankable but here she made the worst decision of her career. So many movies come and go for kids and even the worst get multiple plays in my house, except Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. The movie has been gathering dust since the first time it saw the light of day. Even when Mr. Magorium serves up the news that he is planning an exit no one even cares. It’s bad when the main character exits stage left and all you can think to yourself is “it’s about time”.