Movie News & Reviews

A wonder, indeed

What does it say when R-rated films with names such as "Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem" and "There Will Be Blood" have Christmas Day openings, while "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" -- a story about the magic of believing, for Pete's sake -- is relegated to opening the week before Thanksgiving?

I reckon the optimist could say it gives folks who like engaging in escapist family fare five weeks to see this engaging film -- provided it's still in theaters by then.

Pardon that last bit of pessimism. It's just that "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" is the perfect Christmas Day movie. I mean, do you really want to gather the family around the tree Christmas morning and open presents while Bing croons "White Christmas" on the iVictrola, then go see a movie about greed and oil and backbiting Texas kinfolk? Or would you rather see a film that gives everyone the warm fuzzies?

And not the warm fuzzies in a smarmy, manipulative, eye-rolling way. Warm fuzzies in the "Hey-what-am-I-doing-with-warm-fuzzies" way?

"Mr. Magorium" is the story of a 243-year-old toy store impresario with receipts dating back to Thomas Edison ("Thanks for the idea" next to a sketch of a light bulb). Dustin Hoffman plays Magorium as a daft mix of Einstein, Mr. Magoo and Captain Wrongway Peachfuzz. He's a genius who manages to inadvertently navigate his way despite himself. He's been in business for 113 years, and though he's never so much as thought about keeping books, his store, which sells the magic of toys and make-believe, is a wild success.

But as we all know when we've worn out our last pair of shoes, it's time to go. It'll be up to Molly Mahoney, his store manager, to take over in his absence. Trouble is, the Wonder Emporium is only a magical place if you believe in it, and while 23-year-old Mahoney, played with winsome, elfin charm by Natalie Portman, certainly believes in the store and its weirdly bizarre magical ways, she doesn't believe in herself. And that lack of belief plunges the colorfully creative emporium into a morose monotone.

Oddly, it becomes up to the newly hired accountant -- or "mutant counter" as Magorium mistakenly refers to him -- to try and restore that belief. Oddly, because Jason Bateman's Henry is a bean counter unextraordinaire. Magic? He'll believe only if there's a way to record it on the balance sheet. He's a debits-and-credits kinda guy who sees only red and black in the colorful emporium. Fortunately, he's got a misfit 9-year-old (Zach Mills) to coax him into unreality. Does he have it in him to believe?

"Mr. Magorium" is all about the power of believing. It's the story of possibility, and while it may seem to be a story about endings, it is, in fact, a story about beginnings. And it's a story that captures the season. Certainly more so than "Aliens vs. Predators," the tagline for which is "This Christmas, there will be no peace on Earth."

Go figure.