Playmobil: The Movie Review
If there’s one thing The LEGO Movie taught us, it’s that a multimillion-dollar film based on a ludicrously profitable toy property need not be as soulless as the executives who gave it the green light. How disappointing, then, to report that Playmobil: The Movie is bereft of the creativity and imagination abundant in the genres progenitor, choosing the path of least resistance when it comes to story, themes and sheer entertainment value.
Beginning like a slightly downgrade Jumanji, the film sees orphaned siblings Marla (an amiable turn from Anya Taylor-Joy) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman, most recently seen in the reboot of Child’s Play) drawn into a fantasy world through a magical model lighthouse at the centre of a toy convention. Charlie awakens in the body of a plastic viking and is immediately mistaken for a fierce warrior, carted off to fight in gladiatorial games by the villainous (and unbearably annoying) Emperor Maximus (Adam Lambert). Marla, meanwhile, is left to fend for herself, until she crosses paths with food truck owner, Del (Jim Gaffigan).
From here, it’s a sluggish beat-for-beat retread of the first LEGO Movie: the main plot revolves around a lie, the villain is intent on capturing the universe’s most powerful beings, there’s a somewhat schmaltzy reconciliation of live action characters, a distinctly Nick Offerman-esque pirate captain appears halfway through, and a high-tech superhero with gadgets for brains can’t stop talking about how great he is. This cheap copy of Will Arnett as the self-absorbed Batman is Daniel Radcliffe, giving voice to super-spy Rex Dasher. Every utterance of his name is greeted by an eighties-style exclamatory voiceover “Rex Dasher!”, a slow-motion gurn to camera, and the faintest suggestion of a laugh from the audience.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking inspiration from Lord and Miller, but unlike their film, this makes no use of the brand its attempting to sell - the characters can move freely beyond the limitations of the real-life counterparts, and the decidedly non-Playmobil landscapes could have been copy-pasted from any number of contemporary animations. With the brief exception of Marla’s horror at her new, endlessly-rotatable claw hands, comedy is mined largely from repetitive slapstick and flat wordplay (although one gag in which Maximus’ goons confuse ‘cretin’ for a salad ingredient raised a sharp smirk).
Director Lino DiSalvo - animation lead on Disney’s Frozen and supervisor on Tangled - has a demonstrable track record in crafting fine - and funny! - children’s entertainment, but there’s no evidence of that here. Playmobil has no unique vision, no valuable message for children beyond those they’ll have been taught since pre-school. DiSalvo and his screenwriters have succeeded only in creating an obnoxious (multiple loud cries of “This is awesome!” abound), bottom-of-the-toybox adventure, which offers little spectacle and even less heart.
Playmobil: The Movie is in UK cinemas from August 9th