The colorful tale of a toy impresario bequeathing his fantastical store to a young charge, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium deliberately recalls—and strives to capture some of the enchantment of—Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Unfortunately, whereas Willy Wonka‘s power came in part from its creepy mean streak, Stranger than Fiction screenwriter Zach Helm’s directorial debut is such a fluffy cotton candy confection that it can’t be bothered to manufacture any legitimate dramatic tension. Helm’s story involves Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman, grinning and lisping like a deranged lunatic), a 243-year-old with bushy hair, bushier eyebrows, and a child’s sense of enthusiasm for life. Magorium has decided that it’s his time to “depart,” and that employee and former piano prodigy Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) should take over the store, a bustling establishment that’s literally alive with the spirit of its kid customers. Molly, nine-year-old loner Eric (Zach Mills), and all-work-and-no-play accountant Henry (Jason Bateman)—who’s hired to sort through the emporium’s never-managed financial records—are three of a kind, as they’re all beset by an inability to believe in themselves and/or the magic of the world. Magorium‘s opening narration from Eric is so storybook-cloying that the film immediately finds itself fighting an uphill battle, and as the temper tantrum-throwing store gets sick and Magorium prepares to escape his mortal coil, Helm doesn’t let up on the overblown whimsy, drowning the screen in imaginative playthings, vibrant primary colors, and gaudy special effects. The writer-director largely shuns establishing any contextual backstory for the mysterious, miraculous goings-on, though that doesn’t stop Portman from imbuing Molly with an affecting soulfulness, nor the script from directly confronting death as a natural occurrence to be both mourned and accepted. Still, without a villain who might spice up the rather blah, milquetoast proceedings, and with two too many cozy inspirational speeches, the film stagnates more often than it flourishes—save for a short, wonderful scene that captures the supreme bliss of jumping up and down on a bed.
- Zach Helm
- Zach Helm
- Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman, Zach Mills
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