"Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" is the directorial debut of Zack Helm, who impressed with his screenplay for the imaginative Will Ferrell picture, "Stranger Than Fiction". The film focuses on Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman), the eccentric owner of a magnificent, magical and somewhat mysterious toy store. He's owned it for many years, and he's certainly been alive for more than that, given that he's been alive for 243 years.
Given that Magorium has run his toy store for ages and ages, he feels that he has gotten to the point where he's finally ready for, well - permanent retirement. He's grooming Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman, with an unfortunate pixie haircut) to take his place, although she is both unsure of if she wants the responsibility, as well as where she wants to head in life. An accountant named Harry (Jason Bateman) has also been brought in in order to check the ancient emporium's books, and while he initially considers the place just another toy store, he slowly comes to see that it's a good deal more than that.
The store, on the other hand, is not exactly thrilled with Magorium's departure, and manifests its feelings with the walls turning grey (while not the intended effect, this effect did sort of remind me of something out of Jan De Bont's "Haunting" remake) and eventually, the magical toys start going magically nuts. It's up to Molly, her friend Eric (Zach Mills) and the accountant to try to keep the magic of the store intact after Margorium's departure.
The picture has a narrow focus (rarely does it venture out of the store) and a slight story - which is both part of its charm and a little bit of a downfall, as the picture does retain the feel of a quaint old short story, but also feels stretched somewhat thin at 93 minutes.
The film's messages and conflicts or two do start really putting the film into motion in the second half and, while I felt the first-half was a little uneven, the film really does have a sweet little wrap-up. Still, there's something that still gets to me about the overall picture - as sweet and well-meaning as it is, the picture overall never quite develops its ideas enough, seems quite original enough or has quite the spark one would hope for. As for the spark, the emporium of the title is fairly flashy and detailed, but the effects are a little too artificial looking. The production design is more impressive, but the imagination of it does not quite meet what's needed to completely deliver the sense of wonder and awe the film wants to present. The performances are quite good, including a particularly nice, subtle little performance from Jason Bateman, who has good chemistry with Portman. Hoffman's effort is also entertaining, as well.
Overall, I found the picture a basically enjoyable family film, with a stronger second half. It doesn't quite achieve what it sets out to accomplish, but it's fun, sweet, offers some fine performances and gets better as it goes along.
VIDEO: "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered so-so image quality, with average sharpness/detail and some mild artifacting in several scenes. However, this is still not the retail copy and hopefully, the final product will offer better image quality.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack wasn't particularly aggressive, nor would one expect it to be, given the material. A few bigger scenes did provide some mild surround action for effects and ambience, but the majority of the audio was spread across the front soundstage.
EXTRAS: "Strangely Weird and Weirdly Strange: The Magical World of a Wonder Emporium" is a series of four "making of" featurettes, but these pieces all run about 7 minutes in all - certainly not in-depth. We also get a series of somewhat more lengthier featurettes: "An Eccentric Boss and an Awkward Apprentice", "The Magical Toy Store", "To Meet Eric Applebaum, Start by Saying Hi" and "Fun on the Set". Finally, a series of promos for other titles round out the extras section.
Final Thoughts: Overall, I found the picture a basically enjoyable family film, with a stronger second half. It doesn't quite achieve what it sets out to accomplish, but it's fun, sweet, offers some fine performances and gets better as it goes along. Recommended for families.
The Film B-