Synopsis – An animated feature film inspired by the Playmobil brand of toys.
My Take – We live in a time when everything and anything that is popular enough will be turned into film. It is understandably to an extent, from a producer’s perspective, that if a hit film franchise from pieces of LEGO can exist, there’s no reason to believe the same audience won’t turn up for to watch a film centered on the world of Playmobil, which since 1974, has been delighting children with its set of smiling and flat-faced toy figures with the cup holder hands.
However, as the German line of construction toys is not as well-known as its Danish counterpart, director Lino DiSalvo (the head of animation on Frozen, making his directorial debut) and ON Animation Studios had an uphill battle right from its conception, to reach a wide demographic that appreciated the subversive wit and inventiveness from the first The Lego Film.
Hence, this adaption needed to do something bold to set itself apart.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t. While the big screen story does offer enough action-packed moments and charming gags, it also comes across as a very predictable 99 minutes long dull film. In a desperate attempt to carve out something different, the film just ended up aiming at the most junior of its audiences, without any of the factors that the LEGO films employed to work on its multi-generational appeal that also kept the accompanying adults entertained.
Sure, the film is going to sell a whole lot of merchandise, but cinema tickets, even with the presence of Daniel Radcliffe and Anya Taylor-Joy in its voice cast, I doubt it.
The story follows Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy), an eighteen year old, who has just finished high school and in her thirst for adventure is about to go backpacking around the world. However, plans change when both her parents are killed in an accident leaving her to become the responsible adult, keeping house and caring for her younger brother Charlie (Gabriel Bateman).
As time passes, Charlie comes to resent Marla, for not having any kind of fun anymore, which result in heated fights. Having enough of his current situation, Charlie finally runs away, that is until an anxious Marla finds him in a toy convention next to a huge set of Playmobil figures, similar to the ones they used to play with years ago.
But as they are begin to leave a strange power shortage transports them both into the animated world of Playmobil, where Marla is basically the same, but Charlie is transformed into a bearded, tattooed, strapping Viking warrior called Charles The Destroyer, thrusted into the middle of ragging war, which ends up separating the two.
However, when Charlie is captured by an evil Roman Emperor Maximus (voiced by Adam Lambert) to fight a fierce-some creature in an arena, Marla sets out to rescue him with a little help from a laid-back food van driver Del (voiced by Jim Gaffigan) and a suave, conceited secret agent Rex Dasher (voiced by Daniel Radcliffe).
What follows is a series of innocuous comedy sketches performed by a cast of Playmobil characters so random they feel pulled from a board and loosely connected by a common thread careening across the screen as Marla morphs from feisty to generic inside.
Setting estranged siblings loose in a surreal alternate world was a premise with potential. I’m all for working real-life trauma and big issues into kid’s films, but it just isn’t dealt with in an effective way here and is solely a plot device for the sake of plot device. Here, director Lino DiSalvo’s film cleaves the two apart the moment things get interesting.
All of the bits that are meant to be emotional, tug at the heart strings or make you think, are so heavy-handed and forced that you’re likely to eye-roll your way through instead of enjoy yourself. The plot often seems little more an excuse to visit and heavily promote as many Playmobil worlds as possible with Marla straying into a lawless Wild West town, a land where dinosaurs roam, encounters with salty sea dog pirates and more. It’s more commercial advertising than entertainment.
Obviously commissioned in the cold-eyed hope of giving this one too a share of LEGO’s franchise gold, director DiSalvo has instead delivered a slight film intended solely for under-12s. Making it look like an unpretentious good natured 20 year old after-school TV which despite low-budget managed to be engrossing.
The $75 million apparently spent to achieve this suggests a failure of intent, as the film is more child-like than children’s films have been in some time. As its evident how director DiSalvo throws everything he can at the screen including a robot companion and an enchanted pink hay that gives horse’s wings and glitter.
Kids are never likely to be bored although adults may find it wearying. Through it all there are still standard-issue connecting narrative threads as valuable life lessons are learnt. The empowered brother and sister discover there are no limits to their capabilities and agree that a little adventure is the spice of life, bland variations on familiar themes that leave the film in need of some of the adventurous spirit that it so relentlessly advocates.
Though younger viewer may groan at the dreadful song and dance numbers that interrupt proceedings and are so sickly sweet that the grinning faces and dead eyes become a little too false to truly enjoy the moment. The kids may grasp the central messages about embracing adventure and trying your hardest, but parents will miss the inventiveness and charm that is present in the LEGO films and other, better product-linked kid’s films like Trolls.
Without a doubt it’s Daniel Radcliffe’s Rex Dasher that successfully manages to raise a smile. Here, Radcliffe clearly seems to be having fun by putting on his best Roger Moore‘s Bond impression. Anya Taylor-Joy is at all times delightful in her live-action and voice performance, with her concern for her brother feeling heartfelt.
Jim Gaffigan is a delight as always and shares a pleasing chemistry with Taylor-Joy. Gabriel Bateman‘s performance is both lighthearted and uplifting. Kenan Thompson shines too. While Adam Lambert and Meghan Trainor deliver mildly entertaining performances, but easily forgettable musical numbers. On the whole, ‘Playmobil: The Film’ is a curiously forgettable and underwhelming animated film which sticks to well-worn formula and offers no form of inventiveness.
Directed – Lino DiSalvo
Rated – PG
Run Time – 99 minutes