How did I miss this one? A movie that works for kids and adults, that rewards rewatching, has top stars, presses all my buttons, yet I never heard of it until three years after it was released!
Dustin Hoffman plays Mister Magorium, who, despite the opinion of a guy from Detroit, is not called Steve. He owns a magical toy shop, the last of nine pairs of identical shoes, and a zebra named Mortimer.
Natalie Portman plays air piano, his protege Molly Mahoney, and the willing straight man for Edward Magorium's whimsies.
Kermit the Frog makes a rare cameo appearance, and the two supporting actors are Zach Mills as Eric Applebaum, a young collector of hats and store volunteer, and Jason Bateman as Henry Weston, a counting mutant hired in to unravel 113 years of neglected paperwork.
Henry Weston, despite his accountant's ties that grow steadily more colourful throughout the film, culminating in pale blue and grey, is given what I thought was the best line of all, describing who a dragon ate for dessert after devouring a village.
The script is clever, full of wordplay and whimsy, but the real richness of this film lies in the store itself, a whirling, bouncing, magical treasurehouse of toys. Almost every scene is filmed inside its cluttered interior, and this viewer yearned to join the stream of characters enjoying themselves playing with the merchandise. There are brightly coloured, moving, intelligent toys in all directions, stretching into the background, hanging from the ceiling and popping up from behind displays.
Two special mentions for a wistful sock monkey yearning for an accountant's love, and a skeletal wooden dinosaur playing with a frisbee.
This is a movie I want to see time and again. Not for the plot, which is straightforward. Not for the message, which is whimsical. But for the details I missed previously. There is so much to see that is in the background, or links to some other detail, or has another meaning missed on the first viewing. Eric's energetic recovery of his hat, for example, in the first few minutes. Or just exactly who Bellini the bookbuilder takes to bed with him, seen in the first few seconds.
Or the significance of the bee we see in the last moments.
And, I've got to say it, but the actors can tell a story in a few facial expressions. There is a world of delight in Dustin Hoffman's eyebrows or Jason Bateman's not-quite-smile-not-quite-sneer accountant's politeness.
Natalie Portman is unbearably cute from the moment we first lay eyes on her, and Zach Mills as the all but friendless hat-collecting narrator is the viewer himself. Happily suspending disbelief, innocent of all evil but the fickleness of squirrels, enjoying the moment, and telling the story to those who have not seen it yet.
Go. See it. Now!
- IMDB entry for Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium
- Full transcript
- Helm gets huge bonus points for noticing everything that's annoying about modern children's films and including none of those things in his movie.