Review: “Magorium” a cinematic gift for the season

“Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” as the name suggests, takes us to a place that defies logic, eschewing the common wisdom so instrumental in the theft of our childhood. It’s a world empowered by imagination, happiness and the goodness of heart.

Stocked with Teddy bears that actually return your hug and Slinkys reluctant to do stairs, the establishment’s wonderment is available to all through theportal of simply letting go, which for some isn’t that simple.

Dustin Hoffman, as Magorium, brings a contagious buoyancy of spirit–a combination of lightness and wisdom that lies at the core of the story.

Directed by relative newcomer Zach Helm (“Stranger than Fiction”), this enchanting story rides on the edge of becoming something remarkable, worthy of stealing your heart. The story, built on charm, occasionally breaks its own spell only to find it again, recovering with a moment of inspiration, of which there are many.

In his whimsical role, Hoffman brings credence to the character of a 248 year-old toy store-owner, the actor’s considerable skills necessitated by a wafer-thin back-story that doesn’t totally support the remarkable history he claims to have been his life.

The humble toy-seller dismisses the significance of an IOU discovered in his mess of an office, a thank you note from Edison suggesting that Magorium actually invented the light bulb. The dialogue, while confirming the store owner’s selflessness, bypasses this opportunity to give the fantasy a bit more credibility by inserting a line or two of historical reminiscence from Magorium.

His assistant, Molly Mahoney, aka Molly the Composer (Natalie Portman), an aspiring music writer, works on the last few notes of her concerto in her off hours. The piece, defying completion, leaves both the musical work and her life in suspension.

Afflicted with writers-block and sagging self-confidence, the once child prodigy plucks away at the ivories in hopes of fulfilling the promise of a rewarding and prestigious future in music.

Mr. Magorium however, has his own ideas for Molly, whom he considers his protégé. He has scheduled his retirement, an event indelibly inscribed on a calendar only he can see. While he hints at Molly’s succession in his departure, she cannot (and will not) imagine him leaving or her filling his shoes.

These moments of doubt are compensated for by young Eric Applebaum, aka, Eric the Hat Collector (Zach Mills). An assistant at the store, the emporium comprises his reality. It’s the outside world that has him at a loss, in which, much to the distress of his mother, he is unable to form friendships. This inadequacy is most likely due to his prepubescent peers, focused on a premature departure into a nonsensical adulthood.

A collector and wearer of hats of all shapes and sizes, Eric displays an amazing fluency in the emporium’s mystical culture. His sparkle and unwavering constancy of purpose nearly matches that of Magorium’s, making him, but for his age (which actually should be a plus), the more likely heir apparent.

Zach Mill’s portrayal, exceptionally solid and convincing for his age and experience, contributes as strongly to the movie as his character does the store.

Mr. Magorium, in preparing to bequeath ownership to Molly, hires a professional to access the value of the holdings. Hired sight unseen, the stereotypical accountant (Jason Bateman) serves as the foil for the fantasy, a visitor against which the magic can be brought into relief.

Nicknamed “The Mutant,” the numbers cruncher is unable to “see” quasi-natural activities—the reality that is just everyday stuff for the other three members of the staff. While Molly views him with a mild disgust, Zach chooses him as the first of several friends he has vowed under his mother’s pressure to make. The two take a shine to each other.

As the time grows nigh for Magorium’s departure, and Molly refuses to assume the mantle, the toys begin to lose their liveliness, becoming morose and pouty. Even the physical structure of store itself shows visible signs of petulance. Real estate agents circle like vultures and the future of the store hangs in the balance.

The key to our taking this voyage lies with suspending our disbelief and lending our hearts and imagination to a world that's uplifting, innocent and reaffirming. Hoffman, poignant in his performance, helps this process.

Magorium’s easily transcends the seasonal pulp, the usual yuletide regurgitations from Hollywood. The heart of this picture brings us a sagacious master of life’s priorities and a young boy who appreciates the value of his youth.

This is not a Peter Pan tale. The message doesn’t discourage the embrace of responsibility or belittle the need for maturation. What’s suggested is a reassessment of what’s valuable and constructive in our lives. It reminds us of the gift of wonderment.

Perhaps the key lies in Magorium’s admonition to Molly during which he takes a rare stern tone, “Your life is an occasion. Rise to it.”

Grade: B

Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read reviews by all of Examiner's reviewers.

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