Tiny and almost gingerbread-like on the outside, boundless on the inside, the titular toy store of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is indeed a magical place. A sort of organic, anthropomorphized FAO Schwarz, the emporium is redolent of simpler times with its emphasis on low-fi, nostalgia-inducing toys such as Slinky toys and Legos, along with plenty of other enchantments. A whir of activity and color, it beckons to young and old to surrender to their most innocent beliefs. The movie marks the feature directing debut of screenwriter Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction), who was inspired by a part-time toy store job he held while in college and by cultural influences as disparate as Rene Magritte, the Marx Brothers, Samuel Beckett and the Muppets (Kermit even has a cameo). While endearingly heartfelt and G-rated to boot, its storytelling suffers from a lack of locomotive force and characters that feel disappointingly two-dimensional.
The gently amusing tale turns on the announcement by the well-preserved 243-year-old Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) that it is time for him to leave after a proprietorship of 113 years. In preparation for his departure he hires a buttoned-down accountant, Henry (Jason Bateman), to determine the monetary value of the store before he turns it over to his devoted store manager, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman). Magorium, who is capable of finding whimsy in the unlikeliest of places, determines that "accountant" is a derivative of "counting" and "mutant," and the latter becomes Henry's moniker around the emporium.
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (Fox Walden) Starring Natalie Portman, Dustin Hoffman. Directed by Zach Helm. Rated G. Time 94 minutes.