Andy Bockelman: 'Emporium' enjoyable ride

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— Boasting an overabundance of oddities as well as one of the most peculiar titles of film history is "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium."

Agreeably weird Edward Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) owns the greatest toy store in New York City. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium features a virtual playground for the imagination, and thanks to all of Magorium's magical touches, the shop is a hugely popular hangout for kids of all ages.

No one enjoys the merry environment more than Magorium's assistant, Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), but when he suddenly hands over ownership of the establishment, she is seized by feelings of panic. Even worse, the building itself stats to act out in protest of Magorium's decision to abdicate possession.

Hoffman has played some memorably oddball roles during his illustrious career ("Tootsie," "Rain Man" and "Hook" immediately jump to mind), but in the future, he will be hard-pressed to come across a more bizarre character than the lisping 243-year-old Magorium, who has had encounters with historical figures such as Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln, and allegedly inspired Thomas Edison's design of the light bulb.

Refreshing as always is Portman as would-be concert pianist Mahoney, who has to learn to believe in herself as the new proprietor of the emporium. Jason Bateman does fine as stiflingly practical accountant Henry Weston, who is stuck with the nickname "Mutant" because of Magorium's inability to understand what an accountant is. Nearly outshining all the adults is young Zach Mills as Eric Applebaum, the store's most loyal customer who has difficulty finding friends his own age, but becomes puzzlingly attached to Henry.

"Mr. Magorium" is a mixed bag; when the title character has a penchant for paper airplanes, keeps a zebra named Mortimer as a house pet and holds a world record for time spent upside down, it is hard not to be intrigued, but the problem is that there is such a considerable setup that it outdoes the actual action.

Once the story really gets started, it has little direction in which to go. On the other hand, the undemanding movie has somewhat of a leg up on similar films; Mr. Magorium has none of the unnecessarily cruel tendencies of Willy Wonka, and, although it is not setting the bar very high, the movie is much more satisfying and intelligent than the dreadful Robin Williams vehicle "Toys."

"Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" is a modest accomplishment, yet that simplicity is part of its appeal. Without making the feature more complicated than it needs to be, writer/director Zach Helm constructs an entertaining joyride for the whole family.

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