So, I watched Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium the other day. Don't look at me like that, I was on a nine hour flight across the Pacific. I was desperate.
I really wanted to like this movie. I really did. I like odd, quirky, feelgood movies. Especially ones whose main message is railing against the dying of the light and making every moment count. I'm a sucker that way. I mean, I like The Neverending Story. Hell, I like Toys. And I wish Emporium was of a rank with either of them.
Wonder Emporium did have a few noteworthy and memorable moments. There are a few genuinely sweet moments, a few genuinely comic moments, and even a cameo that put a huge grin on my face. It's just a shame that none of those moments had the movie's lead in them.
The movie has three plots: Boy must learn to make friends. Girl must begin to believe in herself. Man must rediscover his belief in magic. And all three will do so with the help of an unlikely hero – Mr. Magorium. Unfortunately, it doesn't really deliver on any of hem. Much. The standard elements are all in place and are all used well – you know the funny moment in the first act turns out to have emotional significance in the third; themes are presented with all the subtlty of a brick to the nose.
The trouble comes in that Dustin Hoffman, a capable actor in many respects, tried to play the title role as a version of Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka. And the movie really needed Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka.
What I mean is, Depp's Wonka is an oddball who knows he's odd. He knows that the rest of the world does not operate on the same mechanics that he does and so he pushes it further and further away until he is more clown than confectioner. Wilder's Wonka, on the other hand, did not care if the world thought him odd. He was perfectly content to run his factory, and by extension, his life, on his own terms and he thought only in terms of candy.
Magorium is weird and knows it. He revels in it. He speaks in deliberate non-sequiters, trying to impart an entire philosphers worth of wisdom into every quip and pun. His eccentricities seem affectations rather than genuine discombobulation. (It's a word. Trust me.)
The movie sets up a contrast between the weird and wonderful Magorium and ultra straight laced Henry, played by Jason Bateman in the movie. And here is where the above problem really begins to come through. Bateman's journey is so entirely disparate from anything Hoffman does; rather, his journey is manifest through the store itself (and it is a character in itself, as well as being the best part of the movie).
The ostensibly main plot, Natalie Portman's journey to believe in herself is one we've seen a thousand times. And here, again, we need a restrained, genuinely odd Magorium, rather than the deliberate clowning Hoffman gives us.
The other plot I mentioned gets dropped more or less completely at the end of the film.
The movie is worth…obtaining…if not buying or, really, even renting, if only to see the effects that have been put to marvelous use bringing the store to life. But that's about it. Dammit.