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. With 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 9-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? 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.
Bateman will always have Arrested Development.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Nov. 16. Rated G. 94 minutes.