Thursday, 7 November 2019

Playmobil: The Movie ★☆☆☆☆

Back in 2014, The Lego Movie was released to almost universal critical and audience acclaim – and a pretty tasty box office return of half a billion dollars. Spin-offs (The Lego Batman Movie, The Lego Ninjago Movie) followed, along with a sequel – The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – in 2019. The franchise has become a billion-dollar + industry, so it’s only natural that toy companies around the world are going to be scratching their heads trying to work out how they can get in on the action. The first big attempt has arrived from German building toy Playmobil, in Playmobil: The Movie. Ugh…

In order to bring her missing younger brother (Gabriel Bateman) home from the animated world of Playmobil where has gotten lost, a headstrong young woman (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy) must embark on a thrilling adventure with the help of Playmobil allies including Del (Jim Gaffigan), a food truck driver with a heart of gold, and Rex Dasher (Daniel Radcliffe), a suave superspy. 

Now, I grew up with Playmobil. Arguably, I was more into Playmobil than Lego, even. And yet I was so angry and sceptical when this film was announced – the trailer alone made it clear that there was no chance in hell this was going to get even close to the quality of The Lego Movie, which also had the element of surprise going for it (nobody expected it to be remotely good). Playmobil: The Movie is every bit as bad as it looked, and is an insult to the beloved toy. I cannot believe just how bad it is. 

While The Lego Movie is layered with zany in-jokes, pop culture references and supercharged irony, Playmobil: The Movie aims itself more at the pre-school crowd with silly humour and…well, that’s about it. The Telegraph humorously stated the film was ‘like being beaten over the head with the Argos catalogue’ which pretty much sums it up. The film is a feature-length advert for Playmobil toys, and while The Lego Movie was arguably similar in that sense, at least that had a heart and humour. Playmobil: The Movie is just overly commercialised and crass children’s entertainment with no soul.

The film’s visuals are dated, opting for an animated world that doesn’t feel alive. While The Lego Movie’s characters were scuffed, scratched and made the film feel stop motion, Playmobil: The Movie is an overly smooth and textureless affair that feels like kid’s television. This doesn’t feel even remotely cinematic. It looks and feels cheap, animated by France’s ON Animation Studios – yeah, I’ve never heard of them either. Despite some decent voice work, particularly from the always wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy, the film is a forced, cliché mess that seems so desperate to replicate The Lego Movie’s appeal that it hasn’t actually put any effort into its own voice. To paraphrase Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm, the team behind it were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to question whether they should.

All that being said, I can’t say I’m remotely surprised. The film has thus far made a reported loss of $60 million and it doesn’t look like it’s going to make much more at this stage. A failed experiment in trying to muscle in on the cinematic territory, this one has fallen flat on its face and thankfully shouldn’t be launching a franchise of its own. Nice try, Playmobil.

Sam Love

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