Eccentric, 243-year-old Mr. Edward Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) owns and manages a magical toy shop. Making and selling toys all his life, before opening “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” 113 years ago, he travelled the world making children happy with his creations, even making toys for Napoleon. He keeps a pet Zebra named “Mortimer” in his second floor apartment above the store. The shop has many quirks, including toys that seem to have a life of their own, an over-sized ledger, known as the Big Book, that can magically materialize any toy on command, and a doorknob that, when rotated, changes the interior of a magic room (known as the “Door of Rooms”) to four different options (such as the Room of Balls, full of hundreds of animated balls that constantly bounce on their own; or the Room of Trains which is filled with models trains perpetually in transit). The shop is explained as a living thing that can cause the decor and the toys within to change their appearance and behavior according to its emotions. Mr. Magorium states that he imbued the shop with the same youthful characteristics of the children who visit it. However, because of this similarity to children, the shop is also prone to temper tantrums. Besides Mr. Magorium, the shop’s employees include the manager of the store, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), a pianist and aspiring composer, with a quirky habit of absentmindedly playing piano notes in the air with her hand; and his biographer Bellini, a strongman who was born and lives in the basement of the shop and sleeps with a teddy bear. The only regular customer (and constant volunteer at the store) is a lonely, yet cheerful and imaginative, young boy named Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills), who collects hats and wears a different one each day. Molly is his only friend, and he is cherished in a paternal fashion by Mr. Magorium.
Mr. Magorium suddenly announces that although he is not ill, he intends to “leave” — that is, to die — (but is not clear on what he means by “leave” at first) and is giving the shop to Molly to run. In preparation for his departure, he hires accountant Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), (whom Mr. Magorium assumes, by breaking down the name “accountant”, must be a cross between a “counter” and a “mutant”. Because of this, throughout the film, Jason Bateman’s character is referred to as “Mutant”), to organize the shop’s paperwork and his legacy to Mahoney. Among the records are numerous neglected financial difficulties, long ignored by Mr. Magorium, such as a $300,000 bill for a “Magic Doorknob” and a signed “I Owe You” from Thomas Edison for the inspiration for the “lightbulb”. Weston’s dedication to his work, his colorless, pragmatic view towards life and inability to take part in even the simplest exercise in imagination makes him unpopular with the children who visit the shop, and also Molly, who dislikes him for his skepticism towards the shop’s magical powers and rigid view of the world. Eric, however, consistently tries to befriend Henry.
In response to its founder’s decision to leave, the shop slowly but purposely tries to partially rot away from the inside out to show its unhappiness about the coming change. When Mahoney communicates heavy reservations and doubts about running the store (the main reason being that Mr. Magorium is a magical being and she is not) after Mr. Magorium leaves, the store throws a tantrum and causes all the toys and its inner workings to go haywire, frightening away customers of all ages. (A few of them are in trouble.) At that point, Molly, who had assumed from the way Mr. Magorium had previously said “leave” that he was just retiring, finally realizes that he means he is going to die (and on purpose). Worried about Mr. Magorium’s plans, Molly rushes him to the hospital where she lies about his mental health, convincing the doctors that Mr. Magorium’s professed belief in magic is a result of delusions due to his poor health and belief in his imminent death. He remains in the hospital overnight, surrounded by a backdrop of glow-in-the-dark stars pasted all over the room by Eric, and is discharged the next day because there is nothing physically wrong with him. Meanwhile, after walking him home one day, Eric introduces Henry to his extensive hat collection. The two play with the hat collection until discovered by Eric’s mother, who, even though she has professed a strong desire for Eric to make friends, finds it disconcerting that the friend he has made is an adult.
Molly attempts to prevent Mr. Magorium’s departure by showing him the joys of life, but his mind is unchanged and he dies peacefully, his life ending after a launched paper airplane lands at his feet. Many children, adults and his pet zebra, attend his funeral. The store reacts to Mr. Magorium’s death by turning gray and refusing to show its magic.
Believing herself to be unworthy of owning the store, Molly puts it up for sale with Henry’s firm overseeing the sale. Eric, knowing that she has made the wrong decision for herself and the store, travels to Henry’s office and attempts to convince him to buy the shop, citing saved allowance money and future paychecks as capital. Henry gently refuses, but is moved by Eric’s dedication and visits Molly to persuade her against selling the store. As they talk, Molly is holding a block of wood (a “Congreve Cube”) that Mr. Magorium had previously given her, stating that it would help her “find what she is looking for” when she finds a “use” for it. When, in response to Henry’s lack of belief in anything, Molly confesses her faith in the store and its magic, the block suddenly springs to life, and proceeds to fly around the store. After witnessing this, Henry faints with shock. When he later awakes and questions Molly about it, she tells him that it must have been a dream as she had gone home the previous night, leaving him to finalize the paperwork for the sale.
Henry, now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, tells Mahoney that the store is indeed magic and that the magic comes from her and that she only needs to believe in herself. Just then, she absent-mindedly plays a few piano notes in the air and notices that a nearby toy piano begins playing the same notes simultaneously. Hearing the music, Molly begins purposely playing music on the air as the piano continues to play the same notes. She continues playing and the shop bursts into life; the colors return and its magic is revived. Henry, amazed beyond words, finally allows the store’s magic to embrace him. All three rejoice in the fact that, while Mr. Magorium’s story has ended, Molly’s story has just begun.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is one of those films that I watched shortly before I started this blog. I seem to recall not particular caring for it, or maybe I just didn’t remember anything about it, or I just wasn’t in a good place at the time I watched it. In any case, upon a second viewing this afternoon, my opinion has managed to a do a complete 180!
Children’s novels that have been turned into films just haven’t been hitting the mark lately, unless they are animated. However, if there was a blueprint for how live-action adaptations of these books, it would be this film.
I know there are those out there that don’t particularly care for bright, bold, beautiful colors and light, whimsical themes, let alone childlike innocence. To some, everything needs to be dark and depressing. Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is the complete opposite of that. Seriously, the title alone should tip you off that this is not going to be some weird, twisted picture.
The star of this film isn’t any of its stars, but rather the toy store. This place was amazing, and it lives! Sure, that couldn’t happen in real life, but where is it written that people can’t have an imagination? I really want to know to imagination, as our society seems to have totally forgotten about it and wants everything to be real, not matter the subject matter.
The effects in this film are spectacular, from the toys, the various rooms in the emporium, and even the way the store reacts during its mood swings. I would however have liked to have seen a bit more of the toys. Yeah, I know, they showed quite a bit, but think of the toy store scenes in Home Alone 2. They cover the entire shop. I believe we only get about a third of the store, here. Quite a shame for such an extensive layout, if you ask me.
The cast is minimal, but capable. Dustin Hoffman is refreshing as Mr. Magorium. His captures the offbeatness that the character requires, as well as manages to provide a sort of father figure to Natalie Portman and Zach Mills’ characters.
Natalie Portman makes a triumphant return to the screen after the short hiatus she went on before this picture. I didn’t care for her attitude after Mr. Magorium’s death, but every person deals with death in their own way. One thing is for sure, I did really like the fact that she kept a smile and energy about the store the whole way through.
Jason Bateman is not my favorite part of this film. He isn’t quite a villain, but he is one of those characters that is just too wrapped up in his work. Don’t you just hate those kind of people? For some reason, I can actually see him being like this character in real life.
If you’re looking for a good family picture that isn’t animated (or 3D), then why not try Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium? You get everything you could ask for in a family picture, without the sappy love story, and it takes place in a toy store! There are a few issues with this film, but the most important thing is that it doesn’t try to dumb down the story just to appease the younger viewers. It is done is such a way that audiences of all ages can enjoy. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy!
4 1/2 out of 5 stars