Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium (UK - DVD R2)
Our Scott McKenzie accepts the task of watching Natalie Portman play with toys
Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) is a musician who showed promise in her teens, but now in her early twenties she’s having a crisis of confidence. Unable to compose her masterpiece, she also finds herself still in the same job she had when she was at school—as a clerk working in a toy store. But this isn’t any old toy store. It’s a magical toy store owned by Mr Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) and at 243 years old he’s thinking about moving on from this world and thinks Molly is the right person to take over from him. At the same time we meet the young Eric Applebaum, who also works in the store (even though he’s only about eight years old, but never mind) and finds it difficult to make friends.
It’s easy (and probably appropriate) to make comparisons between Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and the Chocolate Factory movies. They all involve an eccentric patron handing the keys to the empire over to a young person who shows promise. What separates the former from the latter is its much lighter tone and lack of scope. That doesn’t mean Mr Magorium is a bad movie, it just means that it comes off more like Willy Wonka-lite rather than an essential family movie in its own right.
Any complaints I have almost certainly come from the fact that I’m a good twenty years outside the target demographic. First of all, anyone watching the movie has to accept that the character Mr. Magorium is magical. So is the store he owns. End of story. There’s no real explanation of where he comes from, why he’s magical or what effect such a magical person has on the outside world. After all, surely some enquiring types out there in the non-magical world other than kids would want to know about bouncing balls that try to escape from the store and dragon toys that breathe real fire.
The structure of the movie is pretty chaotic, which is reflective of the energy on screen, but the story flicks between Molly struggling as a musician, Mr. Magorium thinking about leaving, Eric struggling to make friends and Jason Bateman as the accountant who’s brought in to tie up Mr. Magorium’s affairs. Things improve in the second half when relationships have been established and goals have been set for each character but if I was eight years old I’d probably think the second half is when the movie starts to get a bit boring.
Mr Magorium does have a lot going for it though. The story arcs of Molly and Eric are fulfilling and the entire movie has an incredibly innocent tone, even so much that Eric’s mother doesn’t suspect that the thirty-something accountant she discovers in his bedroom is doing anything more suspect than checking out his hat collection. It’s also good to see Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman on screen together in a movie that I wouldn’t necessarily have picked for either of them. Under-tens will lap this up but I doubt it’ll be a movie that will live fondly in their memories for years to come.
It goes without saying that Mr. Magorium is a colourful movie. This magical movie for kids is predictably painted in loud primary colours, which are well-represented in this transfer. The anamorphic picture is very bright, which works well when the movie moves into slightly darker territory near the end and the contrast between light and dark is especially rewarding. The black level is suitably dark and I didn’t detect any areas of grain or compression in the large patches of colour that take up large areas of the screen. I did notice slight edge enhancement in some scenes but this certainly didn’t detract from the visual experience and I’m sure the target audience of this release won’t be as critical.
Mr. Magorium comes with two audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and 2.0 Stereo. It’s worth mentioning that the stereo track is the default option so those of you who out there with a surround system will need to navigate the menus to activate that option. Music plays throughout the majority of the running time and the audio quality measures up to the enjoyable score from Alexandre Desplat and Aaron Zigman. In a movie with a magical theme, the effects are less memorable than, say, the Harry Potter movies, but I couldn’t find any problems overall with this transfer to DVD.
‘Kid-friendly’ is the best way to sum up the array of extra features on offer here. There are a few featurettes but they’re all short and don’t go into too much detail. ‘An Eccentric Boss…’ focuses on Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman’s characters, with interviews with the actors and crew. This is a common theme across the featurettes and they could easily have been edited together to a longer documentary but I suppose it looks better on the DVD case if there’s a big list of extras. ‘To Meet Eric Applebaum Say Hi’ is all about Zach Mills, who plays the main child character. The director reveals that he auditioned 1200 kids before making his choice.
‘The Magical Toy Store’ is all about the set design and includes interviews with the production designer, who comments on the importance of her job when a movie is set mostly in one location. We also find out that director Zach Helm used to work in a toy store (probably not that long ago by the look of him). ‘The Strangely Weird…’ looks at the director’s approach to his magical themes and shows us the implications of working with zebras and sock monkeys. ‘Fun on the Set’ is a compilation of still shots and clips of the cast and crew messing around on what must have been a very enjoyable shoot.
We then move into real filler territory with ‘Top 10 Toys and Games’, a ten-page click-through that educates the viewer about yo-yos, slinky springs and the like. ‘History of the Hat’ does the same thing for different types of hat. No, really. Then we get a quiz, which is another ten-pager that isn’t really a right or wrong type thing, more of a personality test that tells you which character you’re most like. Incidentally, I’m most like Molly. ‘Flying Machines’ teaches the viewer how to make three different types of paper aeroplane and the extras are completed with some wallpaper and icons available on the DVD-Rom section of the disc.
Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium isn’t a perfect movie by any means but it has enough innocent charm and interesting characters that mean I’ll be keeping it on one side should there be the patter of little feet in my future. This is definitely just for kids and there’s probably less for their parents in the story than other major family movies. The extras on the disc are kid-friendly fluff, which probably means that those of you with young kids who pick this up will find this disc permanently in your DVD player. Until the next Pixar movie comes out of course.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable for all
Release Date: 12th May 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: An Eccentric Boss..., To Meet Eric Applebaum Say Hi, The Magical Toy Store, Strangely & Weirdly..., Fun On The Set, Quiz, Top Ten Toys, Hat-ography, Mr Magorium's Flying Machines, Theatrical Trailer, Quiz, ROM material
Easter Egg: No
Director: Zach Helm
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman, Kermit The Frog
Genre: Comedy, Family and Fantasy
Length: 90 minutes
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