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Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Fox Walden

Review in a Hurry:  The kid in you may delight in the imagination on display in this storybook tale that's like Willy Wonka without all the sass. Just make sure your inner adult doesn't bring along a watch, or you'll be checking it more than once.

The Bigger Picture:  Mr. Magorium's toy store is a pretty wonderful place, in no small part due to the efforts of the kindly owner, a 243-year-old gentleman (Dustin Hoffman) who spouts Zen-like wisdom with every breath he takes. Unfortunately, he seems convinced that he's about to breathe his last, and so he's bequeathed his store to his young assistant Molly (Natalie Portman), a former musical prodigy who's stuck in a deep rut. (Whether it's a whimsically animated environment or not, retail is retail.)

Molly doesn't believe she has the magical skills to pay the shop's bills, and the accountant hired to assess the place (Jason Bateman) doesn't believe it's magical at all. Since the store's powers depend on the "clap louder" bylaw of cinematic enchantments, Mr. Magorium's store will be lost with his passing if the team doesn't get it together.

Writer-director Zach Helm (who wrote Stranger Than Fiction) clearly wants Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium to stand up to the classics. And it is charming. Hoffman's uninhibited glee is infectious enough to carry the film all on its own, and the mixture of CGI wizardry and what looks like old-fashioned string-pulling make every nook and cranny of the store an exciting place. (Too exciting for wide shots, in fact; with that much to look at, the messy screen becomes less than the sum of its parts.)

Though your first glimpses of the Emporium are quite memorable, the abrupt, unsatisfying ending—a bland happily ever after resolution at odds with the rest of the film's legitimate cleverness—is instantly forgettable. As gentle and sweet as it may be, this movie's a treat, but not a treasure.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  Your kids might not be the only ones in the audience with restless legs; the action stops dead every time the plot leaves the store behind, and it happens at least once too often.