Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium review

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It’s the greatest toy shop your imagination could conjure. A stardust-scattered dreamworld ablaze with living colour: chirruping spaceships, clanking robots, hooting train-sets and fluffy, smiling puppy-plushies with dinner-plate pupils. Children are enchanted; adults transported on a reverie-ride back to childhood…

That’s the plan, anyway. Sadly, Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is more like a pokier version of the smelliest floor in Hamley’s with one or two token, Harry Potter-style CG trimmings (living fish hanging from mobiles, voice-operated rubber balls, a big dusty book that spirits up bespoke toys…). In his haste to whip up a Disneyfied confection of featherlight comedy and transcendental twinkles, Stranger Than Fiction writer Zach Helm has, uh, helmed a sickly mini-fable that quickly melts in memory rather than mouth. As failed pianist-turned-cashier Molly, a scrubbed-down Natalie Portman has the kook but not the class to carry Helm’s meandering main theme: ‘believe in yourself’. That’s it. Really…

Hoffman has a fine time, phoning in a low-fat Willy Wonka, but when the Academy coughs up his Lifetime Achievement Award, this frizzy-haired, funny-voiced, shoe-obsessed toy-hawker will be barely a flash-frame in the showreel. The brightest spark is newcomer Zach Mills, fragile but feisty as Molly’s hat-loving helper Eric. If Helm had focused more on Eric’s child-friendly struggles with self-esteem and peer acceptance, he’d have settled the film’s biggest problem – schizo tone. Lurching from jolly japes with comedy monsters to bittersweet issues of mortality might be a cute ruse for the likes of Gilliam or Burton, but Helm is too naïve to deftly blend his light and dark edges. There’s even a sombre funeral scene, which went down like a maggot sandwich with the toddlers at the TF screening. So... Mr Magorium is a bit rubbish, there’s not a lot of wonder and the emporium is more of a slightly creepy corner-shop. Alvin & The Chipmunks it is, then...

Too dark for kids, too daffy for grown-ups. There's the odd glimmer of charm, but beneath the fluttering FX and existential fluster, Helm has buried the most important toy in the box: a good story.

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