It is hard to believe that a movie about a magical toy store could escape being a magical viewing experience, but disappointingly, such was the case here. Screenwriter Zach Helm in his first outing as a director, brings an overly twee sensibility to the story and the character names that somehow defeats his presumably good intentions. One is left with a colourful and beautifully designed toystore set, perhaps overly busy at times, peopled by some rather unappealing (here) lead performers.
I have never been much of a Dustin Hoffman fan, although I have admired his acting chops in many of his films -- "Lenny" and "Tootsie" spring immediately to mind, but I must now conclude that he really can't play comedy without the intelligent viewer wanting to thump him. His eponymous title character, the 243-year old shopkeeper and inventer, is so-overplayed with what is meant to be ingratiating quirkiness that I felt like hiding my eyes in embarrassment. Natalie Portman as a stalled musical prodigy and Hoffman's protege gives an adequate but uninspired performance. Only Jason Bateman as an uninmaginative accountant brought in to sort out the business before Hoffman "goes away", i.e. dies, brings a sense of wonderment to his role. Hoffman says that the word accountant sounds like 'a counting mutant' and the continuous use of 'mutant' to address Bateman's character is a joke that wears thinner and thinner as the film goes on. I should also shed some praise on child actor Zach Mills, "the hat collector" of the cast-list, who bonds with Bateman and who helps him find his inner child. He reminded me of the young Lukas Haas and his enormous stick-out ears seemed unreal.
I could see children reacting positively to this movie if only because of the many wondrous toys on display, but I can't help thinking that the film misfired when it had the capability of being a truly remarkable 90-odd minutes.