Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

area theaters, starts Friday

Writer-director Zach Helm's amiable but nerveless kids' movie, about a 243-year-old toy-store owner (Dustin Hoffman in shell-shocked hair, a purple suit, and an annoying lithp) preparing to hand over his unusual business, begins with a bracing meditation on the inevitability of death. After that, the film grows tediously familiar, stuffed with PSAs about the importance of belief and the life you make for yourself until the time comes to croak without fuss. This falls on the deaf ears of the unfulfilled souls who most need to hear it: Mr. Magorium's existentially stalled manager, Mahoney (Natalie Portman, dressed as if doing public penance for her nude scene in Wes Anderson's Hotel Chevalier); Eric (the appealing Zach Mills), a sensitive nine-year-old collector of kooky hats; and the Mutant (Jason Bateman), a buttoned-down accountant who knows nothing of love or play. All very sweet, but where do you take a movie without noticeable adversaries beyond the enemy within? The only creature worth rooting for is the emporium itself, a charmingly anarchic showcase for misbehavior by the kind of handmade toys only scads of cutting-edge CGI could bring to life. Helm's pacing is as pallid as his palette is vivid, and for a movie that celebrates wonder and strangeness, the whole enterprise feels coy and half-baked.

 
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