Zach Helm, a gifted writer and director, unearths enough of those visual wizards for his debut picture Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, a production designer's dream that is wondrously stuffed with the type of creativity usually reserved for children's literature. Helm proved he can write whimsically with his clever Stranger than Fiction script, where tax agent Will Ferrell ignored a narrators running commentary in his head. Now Helm's charming Emporium shows he's able to construct whimsy on screen, as well.
Helm starts his story by telling us all stories must end so another can begin. In this case, 243-year-old toy shop manager Edward Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) has just told his trusty (and mortal) assistant Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) that he is leaving. Not dying. Just leaving. He intends to turn the shop over to Mahoney, though she has her own concerns. Meanwhile, in order to get his financial affairs in order, Magorium has hired a buttoned-up accountant (Jason Bateman) affectionately dubbed a "mutant" who's unable to see the magic that's visible to children and the young at heart.
The Emporium plot is hardly new. Magorium joins Willy Wonka, Santa Claus, and other adolescent caretakers who have used creative means to seek a worthy successor. Portman isn't the warmest actresses, though she gradually defrosts as Magorium sprinkles his magic around the unfolding narrative.
Helm's visual achievements, however, are worth the price of admission. The director uses traditional stop-motion and claymation effects to breathe life into his fairy tale. Magorium's toy shop is an astounding set constructed with unbridled imagination. It's an alternate universe children will adore. But Helm ups the ante as Emporium builds to its conclusion. He turns the actual store into a character, and like the kids that frequent its nooks and crannies, this shop is prone to mood swings and temper tantrums.
Outside of the shop much of Emporium falls to Hoffman, who plays his imaginative protagonist with a matter-of-fact innocence that rarely wavers. When push comes to shove, you could toss out the hair mousse, odd lisp, and other external tricks Hoffman brings to the role. So long as the actor taps into his inner child -- which he does throughout this fanciful treat -- the Emporium is a nice place to get lost for a few hours.
Hug my dinosaurs.
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th November 2007
Box Office USA: $31.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $69.5M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Mandate Pictures, Walden Media, FilmColony
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 37%
Fresh: 46 Rotten: 78
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Zach Helm
Producer: Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane, Richard Gladstein
Screenwriter: Zach Helm
Starring: Dustin Hoffman as Mr. Edward Magorium, Jason Bateman as Henry Weston, Zach Mills as Eric Applebaum, Jonathan Potts as Dr. Sage, Rebecca Northan as Ellie Applebaum, David Rendall as Tim, Jade Cohen as Kangaroo Girl, Natalie Portman as Molly Mahoney, Marcia Bennett as Lora, Ted Ludzik as Bellini, Madalena Brancatella as Jessica, Paula Boudreau as Brenda, Mike Realba as Dave Wolf, Steve Whitmire as Kermit the Frog (voice), Liam Powley-Webster as Andy, Oliver Masuda as Jordan, Samantha Harvey as Cassie, Jesse Bostick as Derek, Isaac Durnford as Jason, Daniyah Ysrayl as Jimmy, Dash Grundy as Ari, Dylan Authors as Mark, Aidan Koper as Brett, Lin Lin Feng as Angie, He Wen as Larry, Gan Zhen as David, Quancetia Hamilton as Gia, Kiele Sanchez as Mrs. Goodman, David Collins as Tom
Also starring: Nathan Kahane