July 5, 2008 -- This good-hearted fantasy film about a magical toy store is delightfully whimsical, but lacks the emotional punch it needs to give the story momentum. It almost climbs that hill, but never quite makes it to the top. It is too bad, too. It is such a nice little film. It doesn't quite establish the romance or friendships needed to give the story that extra push that it needs to get going. It is a warm-hearted story. That, and its G-rating may be enough for kids. Adults are probably going to find it a bit skimpy on romance and character development.
Dustin Hoffman gives a fine Willy Wonkish performance as the title character. After operating his magical store for well over 100 years, he announces that one: he has hired an accountant and two: that he is going to die and is leaving the store to his assistant, Molly Mahoney (played by Natalie Portman of “The Other Boleyn Girl”). The accountant, Henry Weston (played by Jason Bateman of “Juno”) is called the Mutant by everyone after Mr. Magorium explains that an accountant is “a cross between a counter and a mutant.” When asked how he knows he is going to die, since he seems in perfect health, Mr. Magorium points to his shoes and says, “I fell so completely in love with these shoes, I bought enough pairs to last my whole lifetime. This is my last pair.” As a parting gift, he gives Molly a block of wood, saying, “Unlikely adventures require unlikely tools.” From the muscle-bound Bellini the Bookbuilder working in the basement where he was born to the zebra in Magorium's apartment upstairs, the wonder emporium is filled with magic and whimsy. There is even a surprise visit to the store by Kermit the Frog.
The toy store is filled with bright, colorful toys, magical doors and a gravity-defying paper airplane which seems to sail about forever. The store attracts children like a magnet. None of them love the store more than the diminutive Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills) a noted collector of hats. Eric has problems making friends. He tries to make friends with the Mutant, who eventually rediscovers his inner child and opens to the possibility of magic. The friendship, however, never seems to go anywhere, nor does the Mutant's friendship with Molly. If there had been a romance between Molly and the Mutant, or a better-defined friendship between the Mutant and Eric, it would have given the story the push it needed and might have filled out these two-dimensional characters. As it is, we are left with Hoffman's wonderful performance as the gentle, magical Mr. Magorium. The light fades from the film when Mr. Magorium departs. It rates a C+.
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