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Mr Majorium

USA 2007
Directed by
Zach Helm
94 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Synopsis: Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) is a magical person, an avid shoe wearer, and the owner of a magical toy store in downtown New York. He is assisted by his non-magical store manager Mahoney (Natalie Portman) and an awkward young boy named Eric (Zach Mills). Although the store is a wonderful place Mahoney is a pianist who cannot find herself, Eric has no real friends and most, importantly, it is time for Mr Majorium to die.

Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium is ostensibly a kid's film but I suspect it will be the adults that accompany them who will get the most out of what is a nicely-crafted, albeit slightly over-stated message that magic does happen to grown-ups who believe in it.

Had Robin Williams played the lead role this would have been yet another laboriously sentimental Hollywood variant of a familiar nostrum but with the peerless Dustin Hoffman as Mr Magorium and the aid of some tasteful CGI, writer/director Zach Helm's film comes alive, not as much as, but with a spirit that is reasonably close to Mel Stuart's much-loved Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971). In a performance that recalls Gene Wilder's in that film, Hoffman, with his swooped-up quiff, loud suits and slight lisp is delightful as the dottily wise and lovable toy store owner who has been around long enough (since the days of Napoleon in fact) to have learned a few home truths, even if he thinks (or pretends to think) that an accountant is a cross between a counter and a mutant.

The accountant (Jason Bateman) represents, of course, the modern world of corporatized conformity and Helm has a lot of fun, initially poking fun at his squareness, then leading him on his inevitable rite of passage. Natalie Portman is serviceably cute as Mahoney, the girl who believes in her head but not in her heart although someone like Audrey Tatou of Amélie vintage would have added more to the film. Zach Mills as Eric does a fine job of carrying his part pound for pound in adult company.

If the film has a shortcoming it is that the script is rather thin. The two sub-plots which are developed at the outset, that of Mahoney's inability to find her musical self and Eric's inability to relate to "normal" kids are dismissed cursorily rather than being integrated into the development of the narrative and its main theme of transformation through belief. Thus Mr Magorium's departure ends up being somewhat of an anti-climax, leaving the film with a predictable and rather unmemorable, Hoffman-less final section precisely whereas inspiration should have been the order of the day.

Children, of course, will hardly be concerned with such matters and should find the visual diversion entertaining enough. The rest of us can enjoy the film's good-hearted message, its touching moments and the best performance Dustin Hoffman has given us in a long while.




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