PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE

I don’t know what Playmobil is. When I first heard of this movie, I thought they were those Fisher Price toys, which turned out to be Little People. Turns out, Playmobil is a German toy line that probably only the loneliest of kids with the cruelest of parents would have, because I sure never heard of them when playing with my LEGOs. It’s amazing that they would make a movie about this obscure toy line, but when you find out this was put into motion right after The LEGO Movie came out, then it all comes into focus, as art mimics reality. 
 
Playmobil: The Movie follows Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her younger brother Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), who have a very strained relationship after the death of their parents. Charlie loves the Playmobil line of toys and for whatever reason, he travels to the closed factory to… play with them, or something? Anyway, Marla follows Charlie and, for a reason that’s never explained, they’re transported to the Playmobil world, turning them into toys. Unfortunately, Charlie ends up getting kidnapped, so Marla sets off an adventure to rescue him and return to the real world. 
 
Playmobil: The Movie was originally slated to be released in 2017, so it finally coming out on one of the deadest box office weekends of the year was a very bad omen. A bad omen that very much came true. I didn’t see the previous big animated flop Arctic Dogs, as there were better things out that weekend, but I had no choice here. Not all kids’ movies are bad, but I’d argue that 99.9% of direct to video kids’ movies are terrible. This feels like a straight to video, bargain bin title you would find at Walmart, where I’m sure it’ll end up a week after release. If there’s at least one thing kids’ need from their movies, it’s joy, and this is one of the most joyless experiences I’ve had with an animated film in a while. The movie is bookended by live action scenes with Marla and Charlie, and after the opening scene of them singing some optimistic song of Marla traveling the world, the cops show up to tell them their parents are dead. Parental figures dying in kids’ movies isn’t an uncommon thing, but it’s such a jarring tonal shift here and feels like a real cheap way to create conflict between the siblings. 
 
The only thing that could make the film work for me on the most microscopic level was that the performances are actually all pretty decent. This was filmed before Anya Taylor-Joy had her breakout role in 2016’s The VVitch: A New England Folktale, so she got lucky with this not ruining her career. She’s just as good here as she is in anything else, although the screenplay is far worse. In other words, she gives it her all, even in the voice performance, which is 90% of the film. Gabriel Bateman wasn’t as great, just pretty bland, but his character was irritating and stupid anyway. It’s your typical voice cast of B-list celebrities like Jim Gaffigan, Kenan Thompson, and all that, but they all embody the characters and don’t just sound like themselves. Even Daniel Radcliffe as the James Bond-esque superspy seemed to be having a good time. Shame that time wasn’t as good as the script, as literally zero jokes landed and there’s nothing to their characters beyond stereotypes, like pirate, Amazonian woman, island native, etc. 
 
This is also a musical, just… because, I guess? This is 99 minutes long and it just feels like the needlessly pad out the runtime. The lyrics aren’t clever, nor are the visuals, trying its best to mimic a Disney movie. Ironically, this is directed by Lino DiSalvo, an animator on many recent Disney films, including being the Head of Animation for Frozen. Why he left Frozen II to do this, I’ll never know. Everybody’s passionate about something, I guess. Maybe it’s a good thing, though, as the script here really makes no sense, with the feeling that entire scenes are cut out, as characters will teleport, or end up in predicaments that aren’t set up. Another funny thing is that the original writer and director was supposed to be Bob Persichetti, who would go on to co-direct Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Talk about dodging a rocket there. Who knows what he could have done with this property, but I would much rather have Spider-Verse. DiSalvo does nothing with any of this, though. The screenplay is incredibly by the numbers and predictable, and there’s no development between Marla and Charlie’s relationship to make the big emotional payoff worth it. You can see it coming from a mile away and every other step in this movie just feels like it follows the Disney formula, but not understanding it. 
 
As far as the animation goes, it’s not the worst, but certainly not the best. It’s clean and shiny, and the characters are endearing, but what breaks it is the aesthetic. The LEGO movies don’t just have gorgeous animation, but it’s all of the little details that makes it feel like you’re watching real LEGOs. It was obviously made on a computer, but it had a stop-motion style to make the characters move like actual LEGO toys. When the characters are in the Playmobil world, they just look like generic animated characters and not like real toys. While the water in the LEGO films are millions of blue studs making an ocean, the water here is just water. The horses have real hair, but also fake toy-like hair. Some animals have segmented parts like toys, some don’t. The characters have LEGO like semicircle hands, but can do things with them that they shouldn’t be able to do. There’s just no consistency, nor care with the world and how the animation is supposed to work around it. Like I said, I don’t really know anything about Playmobil, but in comparison to LEGO’s method of building and creativity, it seems rather lame and unimaginative in comparison. 
 
If Playmobil is the dollar store version of LEGO, then Playmobil: The Movie is no doubt the dollar store version of The LEGO Movie. There’s no real creativity, heart, or intelligence to be found here, which are all necessary elements for a kids’ movie to work. Decent performances and animation can only get you so far when there’s literally nothing else going for it. Looks like it was best to just leave Playmobil in the toy chest, because clearly nobody cares about them, and I don’t see why they should. 
 
1.5/10 

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