Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium
Written and directed by Zach Helm (who wrote last year’s underrated Stranger Than Fiction), Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium tells the tale of a 243-year-old toyshop proprietor (Dustin Hoffman) and his faithful store manager Molly (Natalie Portman). When Magorium decides his time to depart has come, he chooses Molly as his heir, but Molly doubts her ability to fill her mentor’s magical shoes.
Helm is aiming for a kind of archetypal fairytale complete with Tim Burton-style carnival antics, but nothing seems to come naturally to him. He’s straining for effects and the strings are showing, and most of the time he relies on a soaring orchestral score do his work for him. The music lets us know when we’re supposed to be moved, and audiences may go along with the film simply because it works so hard at being liked. But besides the irresistible high of seeing Natalie Portman find her witchcraft, nothing has much resonance here. It’s all bright surfaces with nothing underneath.
Where Stranger Than Fiction achieved a magical realism, combining a sharp psychological edge with Capra-esque sweetness, Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is all sweetness and no edge. It’s cotton candy, and without nuances or depth, the result is as flat and inconsequential as a cartoon show. We might at least have hoped for an inventive star turn from Hoffman, but he comes off as a mincing, insalubrious presence. The whole film is cloying, in fact. Magic that isn’t anchored in reality is just confetti to distract from the fact that nothing is really going on. The film is kids’ stuff, a likeable trifle. But considering the talent involved, it’s a major disappointment. (Jake Horsley)
General release from Fri 14 Dec.