Part way through Playmobil: The Movie, I was settling into a marginal recommendation. As a colourful distraction for young kids who are starting to show interest in action flicks, it’s generic yet harmless entertainment. But as the story dragged on through shameless attempts to emulate The Lego Movie franchise, Playmobil: The Movie began to pick at my patience.
While The Lego Movie is the most obvious point of reference, writer/director Lino DiSalvo’s actually reminded me a lot of 1994’s The Pagemaster; with its live-action bookends and its premise about a young boy, Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), becoming a hero in a fantasy that he’s whisked away to on one stormy night. His sister, Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy), is transported wth him to the fantasy, and she spends most of the movie on a journey to relocate Charlie after he’s been kidnapped by some nasty pirates-for-hire.
The fantasy is inside an intricate Playmobil display being showcased at a local toy fair, featuring different themed places and costumed characters associated with each land. But nowhere is Playmobil actually mentioned – a relief for those thinking the movie was a feature-length advertisement, but puzzling for those who are seated for a film titled Playmobil: The Movie. It’s such an odd branding omission that I started to think that maybe the toy company wanted to distance themselves from the finished movie. Who knows though, especially considering how strange this movie is in the first place.
For instance, did you know Playmobil: The Movie was a musical? Well, sort of. I can count on one hand how many songs there are in the film, which doesn’t add up for a feature-length film this long. The songs are pop fodder (Adam Lambert and Meghan Trainor lend their voices), but the tunes are mostly designed to elaborate on exposition (much like classic stage plays like Les Misérables). Choosing to be a musical in this context is fine, but it requires commitment – a quality the filmmakers lack in every area.
Take the film’s animation, for instance. I really liked the cartoony visuals, especially when the film was having a laugh at how limited movement plastic figures would have if they needed to get around. But, this never develops into a running gag because the characters become more agile with visible joints in their bodies. Similar missed opportunities apply to the actual characters themselves. Instead of building on their personalities, the film anchors their traits to their basic costumes. A pirate is a pirate, a viking is a viking, roman gladiators are…well, you get the point.
So, fine, Playmobil: The Movie wants to stay simple for young kids. Missed opportunities aside, I agree with this choice. But the film can’t even commit to that either. The story lumbers along, hinging on a plot where the worried older sister barters with an unpredictable magical hay distributor named Del (Jim Gaffigan) into searching for her lost brother in exchange for some gold coins, so that Del can pay off his debt to a giant slug named Valera (Paloma M. Rodriguez). Wait, a heroine in search of family? A slick rogue indebted to a giant slug? No this isn’t Star Wars, this is Playmobil: The Movie!
For a film that prides itself in the wonders of imagination, this is awfully stagnant and unoriginal stuff.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie