Dir: Lino DiSalvo
When it was first announced, I remember a lot of skepticism about The Lego Movie, but on reflection it makes perfect sense, Lego could be completely unconstrained, it offered a multitude of ideas because the only boundary to what you could do with it was your imagination. Playmobil doesn’t strike me that way. I remember it as having defined sets and not being especially malleable. This is just one of many reasons that the German company’s naked attempt to replicate Lego’s cinematic success falls flat.
The setup has 18 year old Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy) her younger brother Charlie (Played at 6 by Ryan S. Hill and at 10 by Gabriel Bateman) orphaned, leaving Marla to abandon her dream of spending a gap year travelling and to become a surrogate parent to Charlie who, a few years later, is bemoaning how little fun she’s become. After a row Charlie runs away, he ducks into a toy exhibition and when Marla finds him there they are both sucked into the world of the Playmobil toys they used to play with together.
Playmobil: The Movie feels like a film that nobody thought about beyond its title. The characters, screenplay and message are all painfully bland, the songs are perfunctory and the performances either lack or make poor use of any personality from the actors. This lack of interest pervades everything, right down to the animation. Consider the intricacy of how The Lego Movie and its sequels and spinoffs are animated: everything is built from virtual representations of real Lego bricks, there is nothing in the films that couldn’t be built, and the characters all retain the same articulation as their real life counterparts. Initially, when Marla and Charlie are sucked, low rent Pleasantville style, into the Playmobil world, it looks as though this film will take a similar tack, as Marla struggles to get used to moving using her new rigid plastic limbs, on the plus side, this is one of the few gags in the film that raises a titter. Sadly, the film quickly abandons the idea, allowing the figures to bend their arms and legs in a way that actual Playmobil figures can’t. The choice isn’t the issue, the inconsistency and lack of interest in addressing or exploring it is, along with how this is indicative of the larger experience of the film.
The film unfolds as a series of vignettes some rip off better things (the opening section with the vikings devolves into a deeply substandard attempt at ripping off a song from Tangled) and others are simply unfunny scenes of their own, often voiced by celebrities who lend little to proceedings (Adam Lambert as a Roman emperor).
This same lazy feel pervades everything. The songs feel particularly listless, with Anya Taylor-Joy looking ill at ease as she dances her way through an anonymous opening number and Meghan Trainor obviously heavily autotuned for her song. The jokes have the same listlessness, with Jim Gaffigan seemingly abandoned by a script that gives him a main character (Del), but absolutely no defining traits and several interesting opportunities for gags squandered. Think about Meghan Trainor’s part, it’s a fairly route one idea but, wouldn’t a funnier joke be to have her speaking voice autotuned and her singing voice natural? Daniel Radcliffe sounds very ill at ease as secret agent Rex Dasher, why not play that up, make it part of his character? A nervous and uncomfortable James Bond figure may again be a relatively obvious gag, but at least it’s something, and would mitigate an otherwise weirdly affected performance.
All in all, Playmobil: The Movie is dull and empty, a closing sequel setup seems - thankfully - ludicrously optimistic. I suspect this will very soon be an embarrassing footnote that Anya Taylor-Joy and Daniel Radcliffe, among others, will cringe at being reminded of.