By Carla Meyer, The Sacramento Bee
The lovely moments are plentiful but the marvels minor in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.With this story of a toy impresario (Dustin Hoffman) who wants to hand over his shop to his favorite employee (Natalie Portman), director and writer Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction) sets standards pretty high for himself. Any film that so clearly evokes Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (and its Tim Burton update Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) needs to be transcendent.Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, unfortunately, is not transcendent, though its toy-store scenes offer fun moments like one with a red rubber ball so gigantic it’s impossible to dodge. The special effects are too obvious at times, and in trying to impart an eccentric vibe, Helm relies too heavily on kooky camera angles.Though it sometimes plays like a romp, this G-rated picture contains serious subject matter. This aspect of the story is handled with great care but still might provoke questions from little ones in the audience.The movie’s greatest assets are its actors. Portman and Hoffman share an easy, friendly chemistry. So do Jason Bateman, who plays an accountant brought in to make sense of unbalanced books dating back to the 18th century (Mr. Magorium has been in the toy business a long time) and young Zach Mills, who plays Eric, a loner who spends all his time with the shop’s magic animals.As the wild-haired Mr. Magorium, Hoffman adopts a teeth-centric delivery style evoking his performance in Tootsie. He’s doing a bit, but that doesn’t make his character any less warm or witty.Mr. Magorium is supposed to be 243 years old, but Portman’s character, Maloney, is actually the harder one to buy. A one-time piano prodigy, Maloney keeps trying and failing to compose a concerto.
Her setbacks supposedly occur because she lacks a sparkle — a concept requiring a real suspension of disbelief. The always radiant Portman glows without any magical assistance.