Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (review)

Its straightforward simplicity aims it squarely at the kiddies and the kiddies alone, but that’s okay — few films intended for children these days are this gentle, this plainly decent. Instead of pandering to the puerile instincts of its audience, as so many kids’ movies do these days, this one wants to inspire the best impulses of childhood: to indulge the imagination, to keep an open mind, to cultivate friendships wherever you go. Zach Helm, the Stranger Than Fiction screenwriter, makes his directorial debut here, working from his own script, an affably original story about a 243-year-old toy store owner and “avid shoe wearer,” Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman: Finding Neverland), who, being down to his last pair of shoes, knows it’s time to move on to another plane of existence. So he bequeaths his magical toy store to his assistant, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman: V for Vendetta), a hesitant and unconfident young lady. Throw in Eric (Zach Mills), an oddball 10-year-old who has trouble making friends, and Henry (Jason Bateman: The Kingdom), a stuffed-shirt accountant who never stops working, and you’ve got a triptych of souls in distress that that special Magorium enchantment will heal. Helm’s pleasant touches — a sad stuffed sock monkey who just wants a hug; clever and knowing turns of phrase, like Magorium’s explaining to the store that Molly will be “giving care” of it, not “taking care” — steer the film well clear of any grownup cynicism, but woven into the sweetness is a dark lesson about the inevitability of death and the endings of even the stories we love. So it’s not all rainbow-colored candy.

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