Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium opened yesterday, and I was eager to see it. So, evidently, was a whole birthday-partyful of kids and their adult chaperones. We all had a good time.
MMWE is a whimsical and touching story about a 243-year-old man who has spent most of those years running New York's most magical toystore. The store is actually alive, and it has the mind of a child filled with mischief, magic, and wonder. But the store grows sulky and temperamental when Mr. Magorium decides that it is time to hand over ownership to his assistant, a concert pianist with composer's block, and to "depart." As he explains to his accountant, he once fell in love with a pair of shoes and bought enough pairs like it to last a lifetime...and now his last pair is almost worn out.
For the accountant, the adventure of MMWE is about learning to believe in magic. For the little boy with big ears, big eyes, a big smile, and a huge collection of hats, it is about making friends. And for the pianist/apprentice toy impresario, it is about two things: (1) letting go when a loved one dies, and (2) believing in oneself. So the living toystore has a lot of work to do.
The movie is presented as a series of chapters at the end of the story of Mr. Magorium's life, written and illustrated by the mustachioed strong-man who lives in the store's basement but narrated by the hat boy. It stars Dustin Hoffman, with bushy gray hair and eyebrows, an overbite, and a lisp, in the title role. Mahoney, the pianist who unconsciously conducts air-orchestra and plays air-piano all the time, is played by Natalie Portman, late of "Queen Amidala" fame. The accountant, played by Jason Bateman (late of TV's "Arrested Development"), undergoes the most excruciating embarrassment when, finally coaxed into playing "make-believe" with Eric's (Zach Mills) hat collection, he is caught by Eric's mother who points out that it looks a little fishy for a grown man to be playing pretend with a small boy. Eurgh. The life of the movie, however, is Hoffman's character, who makes every scene he is in sparkle, and whose final speech about death cranks the tear ducts wide open.
The movie has an interesting visual style, with the brightness or drabness of the store's colors reflecting its mood. I would only quibble about minor things; for example, I'm not convinced that a pianist who can play Rachmaninov's 2nd Concerto would write something that sounds like the music you hear Mahoney trying to write. But you can easily forgive this kind of thing when there are lines like: "The law of gravity has begun to apply!"