I have been wanting to talk about this movie for a long, long time. And I was just looking for some excuse to talk about it. I had to find some way to tie it into something on this blog. And finally, I just said, “Forget about all that.” So I am going to talk about this movie. Why? Because I love it. Because very single time I watch it, it gets better. I hadn’t watched it in ages, and when I rediscovered it recently, and it made my Top Ten. And then my Top Five. It’s currently sitting at the number #2 spot, and there may soon come a day where it nudges out How To Train Your Dragon for the number one spot.
And so, to quote the movie itself, “This is one of my favorite stories of all time, even though it begins in a basement.”
The film I am referring to is the 2007 family film Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Now, this is one of those movies where it’s difficult to tell you anything about the plot without going into spoiler territory. But I’ll do my best.
First of all, even though Dustin Hoffman’s is billed as the lead, it’s false advertising. The true star of the movie is Molly Mahoney (played by Natalie Portman), who works at the titular emporium. When she’s not working as a cashier in the store, she spends her spare time attempting to write music. And fun fact – Portman learned to play the piano for this movie. She DIDN’T do all her own dancing in Black Swan, and yet that’s the role she won the Oscar for, go figure.
The emporium is filled with color, magic, and wonder. And if you ask any kid who’s ever been to a toy store, that description isn’t too far off. The toy store is owned by the 243 year-old Edward Magorium, played by Dustin Hoffman, who has a little magic of his own. And one day, he hires an accountant named Henry Weston (Jason Bateman) to determine his legacy. Weston, (who gets the apt nickname, ‘Mutant’) is a man with his feet planted firmly on the ground, and he simply refuses to believe that the emporium is magical.
But while all this is going on, Magorium reveals the reason he’s hired an accountant – He wants to determine how much the store is worth, and he wants Mahoney to run the store because he is ‘leaving’. And despite what the back of the DVD says, he’d not retiring. And I don’t think this is really a big spoiler since it’s set up pretty early on in the film when Magorium says;
“You see these shoes? I saw these shoes in a little shop in Tuscany and fell in love with them so entirely, I bought enough to last my whole life. These are my last pair.”
Now, you see how long I spent just talking about the story? That should show you how much I love this film.
It was easy for critics back in 2007 to dismiss this film for being, as Mutant would say, ‘just’ a family film with no substance. And it is a family film. Except it deserves to be placed alongside It’s A Wonderful Life and Mary Poppins as one of the all-time best family films.
First of all, yes, the plot resolves around a magical toy store. It sounds juvenile until you think back to your own childhood. Remember how when you were a kid, and you would go to a toy store, it was the most wonderful place in the world? How you were convinced that you had to have every single toy, that they all had some kind of magic inside them? And then somewhere along the line, the store became ‘just’ a store, for people to by plastic playthings that don’t do much but make noises and light up.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium brings some of that magic back. That alone makes it worth seeing. The production design should have been somewhere in 2007’s Oscar consideration, because the store looks phenomenal. And it’s mostly a real set with a handful of puppets and practical effects. It all comes directly from the mind of Zach Helm. It’s a shame he never directed another movie after this.
But it’s not just the production design that deserved consideration. The film is also brought to life by it’s wonderful cinematography, curtesy of Roman Onsin. (who also did 2005’s Pride And Prejudice) And if you agree with NOTHING else I say in this review, agree with this. Alexandre Desplat and Aaron Zigman deserved to be nominated (at the very least) for Best Original Score.
And, with Mahoney being a composer, the score is woven into the film in a surprisingly clever way. So, there’s that.
You know what this was nominated for. A Golden Trailer Award. (Which wasn’t even really deserved, as the trailer makes the movie look kind of dumb.) And a Young Artist Award for Zach Mills. (Deserved. He was fairly good, as child actors go.) That’s it. Not even the Musical/Comedy section of the Golden Globes came to the film’s rescue.
And then, there’s screenplay, which might just be my favorite movie screenplay EVER. The dialogue is just so phenomenally wonderful. At first, I was going to put some of the dialogue here to give you a taste, but I decided I wasn’t going to give you all the best lines. You’ll have to watch the movie for yourself to hear them, in context and spoken by the actors to get the best first impression.
And how can I forget the acting. As I already said, Zach Mills is impressive. Jason Bateman is pretty good, although I think he underplayed it a bit in the final scene. But there are two big players here. Natalie Portman shines as the lead and has quite a bit of emotion to play with. She pulls her part off without a hitch, and it’s her acting that makes the ending as effective as it is. (Well, that and the music.)
But the big money is on the is Dustin Hoffman’s supporting role as Edward Magorium. And I can honestly say… as I write this…
…This might just be my favorite performance. In any film. Ever.
In the hands of a weaker actor, the character might have seemed unoriginal. Like the lovechild of Dumbledore and Willy Wonka. Except that Hoffman takes it and runs with it. At no point is he talking down to the audience. At no point does he show even the smallest doubt that he means what he says. The character is one that may seem foolish or wise at any given moment. Often you don’t understand him, and yet, you always want to be around him. And it certainly helps that his final monologue may be the greatest monologue ever put in a film. I’ve seen the two performances that Dustin Hoffman won Oscars for, and this performance is better than either of them.
Wow, after all that, it may not be too much longer before Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium tops How To Train Your Dragon as my favorite movie. I will admit, the film has it’s flaws. The film editing and sound design aren’t the greatest, and the few scenes with CGI have not aged well. But if you can look past that, you’ll find a truly underrated gem. I’ve made it one of my life’s goals to get as many people to see this movie as possible. Hopefully, this post will help.
Oh, and please don’t check the Rotten Tomatoes page. I swear, I don’t know what kind of stuffy old curmudgeons run that site.
P.S: This movie is so low key that the film Wish I Was Here can apparently just steal the best line without anybody being sued!