Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2008)

Rating: C

Dir: Zach Helm
Star: Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Zach Mills, Jason Bateman

The 243-year old Mr. Magorium (Hoffman) owns a magical toy-store, but is getting ready to ‘depart’, and hand the keys over to his manager, Mahoney (Portman). However, she is not certain she wants the responsibility, or possesses the necessary mystic skills to keep it running. A believing child with a large collection of hats (Mills) and a disbelieving accountant (Bateman) are also present, in what is an astonishingly-slight tale, though one not without its charms. The main one of these is the store itself, Tardis-like in the way its far larger inside than it should be, containing a cornucopia of imagination, in which everything is larger, brighter and more alive than life itself – a fish mobile is made from real fish, for example. [Though thinking about it, that would likely be rather more slimy, smelly and less appealing than intended, one suspects]

Portman and Bateman are also appealing in their roles, putting across genuine emotion and humanity. The real problem – a disastrous one – is the horribly mis-cast Hoffman, less a performance than a collection of gimmicks, speech impediments and bad make-up, reminding me why I find him among the most over-rated of all actors. I found myself distracted by listing the actors better suited for the role, and the only mercy is that Robin Williams was apparently unavailable for the part. He always seems to be giving a Performance with a capital P, and I find it impossible to forget this and see his character rather than the Actor, with a a capital A. It’s also a problem, plotwise, that Magorium’s departure is dropped on us too early: the impact would have greater had the audience had any time to relate to the character. Instead, what you have here is less a movie – even a ‘family’ one – than a cinematic Polo mint. It makes for great visual candy, yet there’s a big hole in the middle.