American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Mr. Magorium is 243 years old, he informs us. He has possibly survived so long by being incapable of boredom. Life for him is a daily adventure, which he shares with the children who pack into his magical toy store. And let's talk about the toy store first. If the movies consist of millions and millions of rooms, some of them indoors, some outdoors, some only in our minds, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is one of the most delightful. It is jammed to the ceilings and bursting the walls with toys that, in some cases, seem to be alive, and in most cases seem to be real toys, and not the extrusions of market research.
The emporium, a quaint old store squeezed in between two modern monoliths, has been run since time immemorial by Edward Magorium, who is played by Dustin Hoffman as a daffy old luv with a slight overbite, a hint of a lisp, a twinkle of the eyes and boundless optimism.
He is so optimistic he is looking forward to his next great experience, which will be death. And he dearly hopes that after he departs, the emporium will be taken over by young Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), who is his only employee, except for Bellini the Bookbuilder (Ted Ludzik), who does not seem quite real and possibly just operates in the basement as a freelancer.
Molly is not sure she is ready to shoulder such a responsibility, and her lack of self-confidence provides the Conflict without which the movie would be left in search of a plot. She was once a prodigy at the piano, but her failure of nerve on the stage has spread into other areas of her life, and it is Edward's mission to correct that. Looking on (and narrating) is Eric (Zach Mills), a young boy who seems to live at the store as unofficial monitor of all activities.