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Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/4/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/25/2008

It's happened to the best of us. You discover a release by an artist, be that a writer, a musician, or a filmmaker, and you truly love it. Thus, you want to find other things that they've done so that you can further expose yourself to the greatness, only to find that their other releases aren't as good as that initial gem which captured your heart. (I've found that happens to me mostly with music.) Apparently this can happen in Hollywood as well. I can only imagine that a producer loved Zach Helm's script for Stranger than Fiction and decided to scoop up the next offering by the writer. That next script, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, feels like that second album which makes you say, "Is this the same band?"

The title, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, refers to a toy shop in New York City. The shop is owned by Mr. Edward Magorium (Dustin Hoffman), an eccentric man who claims to be over 200 years old. He is assisted in the store by Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), a young woman who was on her way to becoming a piano virtuoso, but now finds herself working in the toy shop. A young customer named Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills), who collects hats, spends a great deal of time in the store and often helps Mr. Magorium and Mahoney. The store is a truly magical place, where the toys move and interact with the customers. Children love the store and it's always filled with laughing and playing youngsters. One day, Mr. Magorium tells Mahoney that he is going away (which is his way of saying dying) and he wants to make sure that his affairs are in order. He hires an accountant, Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), to see that all of the store's accounts are fine. Henry begins his audit, Mahoney frets, and Mr. Magorium prepares to go away.

I would love to say that the synopsis which you've just read constitutes the first half of the film and that there's much more to follow, but I would be lying. For a 94-minute film, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is very light on story. Instead, it wants to rely on quirky characters and situations to delight us, but they never work. Dustin Hoffman speaks with a lisp, and not a funny lisp, but a "I've suffered a severe head trauma and no one will take me to the ER" lisp. If you can understand what he's saying, you'll find that he's always speaking nonsense and asking silly questions. Isn't that fun? Magorium calls Henry a "mutant" because he thinks an accountant is a cross between a cow and an ant. Hilarious! As the accountant, Henry is a very concrete thinker, and he can't see the magic happening at the toy store. But, eventually, he comes around and embraces the whimsy. Wow, I didn't see that coming. Portman, still sporting hair which hasn't fully completed it's hiatus from the making of V For Vendetta, has an affectation where she unconsciously plays the piano on objects and in midair. Quirky! None of this can detract from the fact that the story is thin.

Say what you will about Stranger than Fiction, but most will agree that the film's main idea was very fresh and original. As for Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, it would be far too easy to say that the story bears a striking resemblance to Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory...but that's going to stop me from doing it. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is about a bizarre candy maker who is loved by all who runs a wondrously magical business. In the story, he's planning to retire and wants to leave the factory to a young successor. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium concerns a beloved magical toy which is owned by a unique man. He feels that his life is coming to an end and he wants his young assistant to have the store. You don't need graph paper to chart the similarities. In that sense, the story of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium feels very lazy. When my young children are saying, "That's just like Willy Wonka!", something is wrong.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is a dud from the get-go. The wafer-thin story (at least Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had the episodic nature of the five children to fill in the gaps) and the familiarity of the tale make the movie predictable and dull. The movie also contains some questionable and mixed messages. The movie is Rated G, yet the main character talks about dying throughout and this could upset younger viewers. And despite the fact that the movie has a convoluted, "We've all got magic inside of us which will allow us to follow our dreams" message, this doesn't really happen to the characters. Adults and children alike will be bored and possibly angered by Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, a movie which somehow makes a magic toy store unappealing.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium toys with DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version has been viewed. The film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Keeping in mind that I watched a preview disc, I can say that the image was clear, but not overly sharp. The image showed no grain or defects from the source material, but there was a notable amount of artifacting and pixellation. Fast movement by characters created an on-screen blur. The colors did look very good, though, especially the reds and blues. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good, especially during the crowded store scenes. These scenes also provide some nice surround sound and one or two nice subwoofer thumps. The sound effects never overpower the dialogue.

The Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium DVD has a handful of behind-the-scenes extras. "Strangely Weird and Weirdly Strange: The Magical World of a Wonder Emporium" (7 minutes) examines writer/director Zach Helm, the puppetry used with the sock monkey, using a live zebra in the film, and the Lincoln Log Lincoln. This piece is made up of on-set footage and comments from the filmmakers. "An Eccentric Boss and an Awkward Apprentice" (7 minutes) has comments from Hoffman and Portman as they discuss their characters. "To Meet Eric Applebaum, Start by Saying Hi" (7 minutes) profiles young actor Zach Mills and his charcter, with comments from his fellow actors. "The Magical Toy Store" (8 minutes) examines the set decoration adn production design of the film. We get a tour of the set here. "Fun on the Set" (2 minutes) is simply a montage of outtakes.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has also seen fit to bring Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. The transfer here is light years ahead of the screener DVD which I viewed. The image is extremely sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The picture holds a great deal of detail and you can see every pore on the actor's skin. (If you're into that sort of thing.) The colors look fantastic, and it was only after seeing the Blu-ray that I realized just how colorful the movie is. I detected no blurring or video noise. The Blu-ray has a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio track which runs at 48 kHz and 1.5 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are quite good and there is a subtle amount of surround and bass effects. The film's finale does bring about a notable amount of audio effects and the sounds of the store truly fill the speakers. This is a solid video and audio package.

Surprisingly, there are no extra features on the Blu-ray Disc.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long