With a plot like Swiss cheese, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium left me dumbfounded time and again with it's ambiguity. First of all, if I were a parent, I'm not so sure I'd let my children spend their entire day at a toy store run by a creepy man with a lisp who claims to be over 240 years old. I feel like that should be a warning sign for parents. It is also all the more bewildering at how everybody in the neighborhood seems to accept the fact that this store is completely out of lines with reality. I'd be terrified if an octopus jumped out of a book and landed on my head! It is also never explained how Magorium gained his magic originally and then how he gave it to Molly. Was he an alien? Was he a wizard? Was he pumping noxious gas through the store to make people hallucinate causing them to believe what they were seeing was true? We don't know. I'm 95% sure if you were to ask writer and director Zach Helm that question, he wouldn't even know. But I think I might be giving Wonder Emporium too much credit by asking these analytical questions. It is after all just a children's movie. It is sort of like asking the writers of Spongebob Squarepants why Spongebob often takes baths, even though he's underwater. Or why when he speaks, bubbles don't come out of his mouth. You are just supposed to look at it at face value and be entertained by it. Regardless of how many times I was left stupefied by Wonder Emporium, I was slightly and surprisingly entertained.
The man behind Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is Zach Helm, who previously penned the acclaimed Stranger Than Fiction. Helm is obviously a man with a vivid imagination, but somebody might want to check his drink for traces of alcohol, because what he created here was a demented work of delirium. He did everything in his power to make this film as wacky and zany as possible. Those really are the only words to describe it. Even the characters in the film use adjectives that are synonyms of wacky and zany. The final credits read all of the characters names as something silly like "Mr. Edward Magorium - Avid Shoe Wearer" and "Eric Applebaum - The Hat Collector". It are the little aspects like this that made Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium almost unbearable for me. Almost.
The performances in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium weren't making matters an easier to take. Dustin Hoffman's campy, kooky, wacky, and nutty Mr. Magorium was enough to make me suspicious that somebody dropped a hit of acid in my soda. Complete with mad scientist hair and the aforementioned dreadful lisp, Magorium seemed like a character that should be in an early Saturday morning cartoon. Instead of being lovable and amicable, he flustered and perturbed me. His ceaseless corny jokes became tiresome and sometimes moronic. He seemed to have a strange obsession of trying to figure out why their are always more hot dogs than hot dog buns. It was amusing once, but when he brought it up again it was just unnecessary. Natalie Portman had to do her best to seem as childish and immature as possible in order to fit the bill in this movie. Perhaps that is why she was sporting the 12 year old boy haircut. Realistically speaking though, Portman is a good actress but she does not have the sparkle that is needed to be entertaining in a children's film. You could see in her face that she was hoping for the chance to do some real acting, but this movie was about fun, so she just held it inside and sleepwalked her way through it. Jason Bateman, who apparently felt this movie was more important than working on something better, say, a movie based on his hilarious hit TV series Arrested Development, shows up in this film to provide pretty much nothing. Maybe the only somewhat genuine performance in this schlock-o-rama was that of 12 year old Zach Mills, who played the outcast little boy that finds refuge inside the walls of the Emporium. He showed a real attachment to all the characters and was really the only sympathetic one of the bunch. It wasn't great, but it was very impressive.
What shocked me most about Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium was not it's wacky characters or outlandish plot, but the idea that I was somewhat entertained by it. After all the negatives I have thrown around about this film, I can't help but feel like I enjoyed it. It reintroduced me to the idea of magic and wonder that I had when I was a child. It took me away from dealing with horrible things such as applying to college, and brought me to a place that was nothing more than a place to have fun. For 93 minutes, I was in a place that I could enjoy, that I didn't have to worry about. Their was barely any viable conflict in the film because I knew how it would end, so I couldn't even be weighed down by that. Although still extremely flawed and altogether nonsensical, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium creates a wholesome environment that your children will definetly enjoy...and you might even enjoy it too. This movie goes in my list of films that is so bad, it is good. My rating ( a very watchable 5/10)