Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
If nothing else, the twee title and opening credits of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium send up a red flag, which the rest of the movie charges relentlessly with a desperate air of adults trying to recapture the fleeting wonder of childhood and bottling it on film.
Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman in perhaps his most misbegotten role) holds court over a vast steampunk-esque toy store. Children from all over the city swarm the aisles to partake in the magic. It’s magic because everyone keeps insisting it’s magic. The magic has kept him going for a couple hundred years, but his time is up and he wants to pass the store on to store manager and failed child savant Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman, looking all the world like her bobbly head is about to snap her reedy neck) to take over.
Molly isn’t down with that ‘cause she’s not feeling the magic anymore, and wants to reclaim her dream of being a concert pianist. Magorium brings in a beancounter (Jason Bateman) to aid the transition, to woo Molly, and to befriend some jug-eared kid with Bud Cort eyes who hangs around being weird.
There’s not much else to the narrative, so the movie is instead fueled by a forced preciousness, a precocious sugar crash that sets in too early and never recovers.
While it’s not a complete failure, it never quite gels. It evokes an inadvertently melancholy air, of grownups desperately trying to evoke that vibe of childlike wonder by hiring kids to run around and pretend to be awestruck amid the vast collection of archaic toys and contemporary product placement.
It’s sort of sad watching Hoffman try ineffectually to create a lovable character and missing the right tone completely; by turns simpering, lisping and waddling about until he finally settles on Rain Man channeling the ghost of Ed Wynn.
Ultimately, it is just another kids flick that aims to encourage the target demographic to believe in themselves, that they can be what they want to be … although even that message gets muddled, as Portman’s character ends up not as what she wants to be, but what Magorium wants her to be.