Playmobil: The Movie (2019) Review
FULL OF DISAPPOINTMENTS!
It’s no wonder that Hollywood would eventually get around to doing a full-length feature film endeavor for several popular (then and now) toy properties for a cinematic treatment. While not truly unheard of, the idea of translating a toy line brand (dolls, action figures, tabletop games, and trading cards, etc.) into a motion picture has a lot of both speculation and somewhat anticipation; bringing their respectable trademark proprietary names into a new medium for its fanbase and for newcomers (of all ages). Companies like Mattel, Hasbro, Waddingtons / Parker Brothers, Wizards of the Coast, and LEGO have utilized their products for these movie endeavors, including Battleship, Clue, Jem and the Holograms, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and The LEGO Movie. Now, STX Films, Animation Studios, and director Lino DiSalvo present the latest “movie based on a toy” project with the film Playmobil: The Movie. Does the movie rise to the challenge of evolving its own “brand” as well as being entertaining or is it just a shallow attempt another famous “Brick” animated movie?
Marla Brenner (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a young spirt-free teenager who dreams of traveling the world, but her future plans come to crashing halt after receiving the news that her parents have died in a car accident. Several years later, Marla’s happy go-lucky has withered away; replaced by a more mature adult persona as she must run the household along with manage her younger brother, Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), who is lonely since their parents passed away. One night Charlie sneaks out and heads to a toy museum with a Playmobil exhibit, with Marla hot on his heels to punish him. Unfortunately, just as Marla confronts her brother for beratement, a mystical force pulls the Brenner siblings into the Playmobil universe. Once there, Charlie is captured by some pirates and brought to Emperor Maximus (Adam Lambert), the tyrannical ruler of Constatinopolis, who plans to collect the strongest beings within the Playmobil realms. Waiting to save her brother and find a way home, Marla journeys across the various Playmobil lands; finding help from several of its denizens, including Del (Jim Gaffigan), a food truck driver, and Rex Dasher (Daniel Radcliffe), a suave secret agent.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I can always say about movies (in all formats and genres) …. not every movie made out there is created / made equally. Similar to feature films that are based on video games, these particular projects can have varying results that depend on the likeability of the actual toy product (popularity and relatively) as well how the toy product is presented within a cinematic story. Naturally, some have evolved into something more like Transformers movies (love them or hat them, but they have been big blockbuster endeavors) as well as the massive success of the LEGO Movies (yes, “everything is awesome”), while others were more duds like 2015’s Jem and the Holograms or 2000’s Dungeon & Dragons. However, some have found a sort of “happy medium” within their respectable…. such as the plethora DTV (direct-to-video) Barbie movie releases. So, like I said above, movies based on a toy are not unheard of, but draw some interest as well skepticism with each announcement release.
This brings me back to talking about Playmobil: The Movie. I do remember hearing the announcement for the film being made awhile back and thinking it was just another quick “cash and grab” in the spotlight for the LEGO Movie installments, with some studio execs capitalizing on the ideas on a similar project to those features. After that, however, I really didn’t hear much about the movie until I saw the movie’s trailer for the film (towards the end of July of 2019) and I wasn’t really impressed with it. Like many out there, it just looked like a cheaply made knock-off version of The LEGO Movie (just with the characters looking like Playmobil figurines). So, while I was on vacation, I had the chance to see an early advance screening of the film and was curious to see it. Of course, my suspicions were still doubtful, but when into the movie with a positive outlook towards the feature. A sort of “hoping for the best, but expecting the worst” mindset. So, what did think of it? Well, my suspicions about this movie were correct and that’s not a good thing. Altogether, Playmobil: The Movie just feels completely derivate to The LEGO Movie features and comes off as hollow, bland, and quick “cash and grab” mentality. As I mentioned above, not all “toy-based movies” created / made equally….and this movie fits the bill to the “T”.
Playmobil: The Movie is directed by Lino DiSalvo, who makes his directorial debut with the film. DiSalvo’s background consist of being an animator for Disney, with collective work on several of their features such as Chicken Little, Tangled, and Frozen, along with other live-action films (as an animator), including 102 Dalmatians, Reign of Fire, and Inspector Gadget. Thus, given his past work, DiSalvo seemed ripe for picking in helming his own animated feature film. Collectively, DiSalvo approaches Playmobil: The Movie with a sort of 80s throwaway kid’s adventure story, with a pair of siblings (Marla and Charlie Brenner), who are at odds with each other at the film’s beginning, but go on a magical adventure (to another world) and learn about their importance of each other and their own inner courage. It’s definitely a well-trodden narrative path that many kids’ movies have done before, but it’s proven to work and has a sort of “throwback” feel of adventure. Plus, it is fun to see how DiSalvo utilizes several of the Playmobil locations (i.e. Viking, Western, City, Space, Roman, etc.) in the movie. Additionally, the film does move at a brisk pace, which is kind of a good thing.
As for its presentation, Playmobil: The Movie is just adequate; providing a decent (yet average-looking) animated feature. Of course, since the movie is non-big Hollywood studio animation project (i.e. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Illumination Entertainment, etc.), I do have to give some credit to the animators for creating a film like this. Thus, I can’t be too harsh on that subject. Although, at the same time, the animation is a bit dated and not as colorful bright and intricate design as many other release…. even from non-animated juggernaut studios. Like the movie itself (and I’ll be saying this a lot about the film), the animation for Playmobil: The Movie gets the job done and does present various locales of the different realms therein with distinctness, but not exactly imagery sharpness or even creativity fun. Additionally, a lot of the other areas of a movie’s presentation (of which I usually mention) are merely “passable” and not much talk about beyond that. Even the film’s score, which was done by Heitor Pereira, is just bland and doesn’t offer much beyond the occasion music. Nothing of the musical composition pieces stand out.
Unfortunately, as you can tell, Playmobil: The Movie is just a flat derivate and vanilla movie right from the get-go and doesn’t offer much innovation or entertainment value to its proceedings. The most obvious one is the movie being compared to 2014’s The LEGO Movie and all of its several iterations (probably more closely related to 2017’s The LEGO Ninjago Movie….in terms of story frame working). The comparison quite noticeable and you just get a cheap “knock off” feeling of the LEGO Movies when you watch Playmobil: The Movie. Of course, the LEGO Movies definitely have plenty to offer within creativity, imagination, humor, and (even sometimes) dramatic heart within their animated tale as well as solid talents on each of their respected installments. DiSalvo, unfortunately, tries to emulate that same type of feeling with this movie, but comes up empty handed in all every aspect. I mean serious…. LEGOs….Playmobil…. the similarities between are clear cut and its obvious that the movie was being made to “cash in” on the success of the LEGO Movies. Thus, Playmobil: The Movie is just an unsatisfying and shallow attempt to be too much like the LEGO Movies.
Even looking past that, DiSalvo doesn’t do with the movie, except playing it safe and “by the numbers”. It’s quite clear as how he wants to shape the feature and frames it all its familiar way, but familiarity does creep way too much, with the movie never really coming into its own. Perhaps it’s because DiSalvo’s inexperience as a director, with Playmobil: The Movie never really finding its proper footing and just relying (heavily) on stereotypical nuances for other children’s films. Thus, there’s a weird / odd feeling while watching this movie as if DiSalvo plays a “favorite hits” of other endeavors and tries to make it his own. This also extends to the film’s script, which was penned by Blaise Hemingway, Greg Erb, Jason Oremland, with a storyline consultant advisement by Michael LaBash, which doesn’t help the situation. Why? Well, despite their attempt, the feature’s narrative is quite bland almost as if the film is a “cobbled up” version of similar kid’s adventure stories. Yes, it’s proven work, but the movie’s script never truly shines, which is disappointing. Ideas are presented but never concluded, jokes and gags are written in for comedic levity but fall flat, and various characters are made to be memorable but coming up shallow / hallow throughout. There’s plenty to dislike about this movie as if the feature tries too hard to be something new and unique, but the end result just comes off as formulaic, predictable, and just downright lackluster.
Additionally, the movie does have several musical songs that some of the characters sing throughout the movie. Unfortunately, while the attempt is there, the actual execution of it all is downright miserable. None of the songs are lyrically engaging (i.e. poorly written) and the actually “singing” of them ranges from “passable” to completely unbearable, which comes at a bit of a surprise as the film enlists two musical talents (Adam Lambert and Meghan Trainor) for two key song that are actually the worst ones of the bunch. Yeah, definitely a “head scratcher” for me.
As an interesting side-note, before DiSalvo was announced as the director of Playmobil: The Movie, director Bob Persichetti was originally supposed to direct the feature. Unfortunately, he dropped out of the project and went on instead to direct the acclaimed animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse….which (of the two animated films) was the better idea.
The cast in Playmobil: The Movie is decent enough with several recognizable acting talents involved on the project. However, much like the rest of the film, their vocal work for their particular characters isn’t exactly the best, with many (if not all) are up bland voiceover work. It gets the job done, but nothing really shines or give memorable performances in the movie. This most apparent in the main trio of characters (Marla, Charlie, and Del), who are voiced by actress Anya Taylor-Joy, actor Gabriel Bateman, and comedian / actor Jim Gaffigan. Taylor-Joy, known for her roles Split, Morgan, and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, definitely has the talent for being a lead character (or at least strong female lead in ensemble cast), but her part in Playmobil: The Movie is not her best work. She gets the part of Marla and tries her best in working what’s given to her; playing the once dreamer / adventurous character that had to grow up quickly, but then gets a chance to experience her own adventure throughout the movie’s story. Like the movie, this narrative arc has been done before, so it’s a proven path to follow, but the feature’s script is weakly done and fumbles with Marla’s character journey, which proves not a whole lot of nuances and character moments to bolster her series of adventures she has. Thus, Taylor-Joy’s voice for Marla tries to be excited and wonderous and ends up being dull and derivate.
Likewise, Bateman, known for his roles in Child’s Play, Annabelle, and Lights Ous rather bland in his stereotypical youthful tween character of Charlie. What he gives is okay, but (again) nothing stands out within his character. Plus, the character’s journey in the feature is just weak and dated; lacking substance within his story arc. Both Taylor-Joy and Bateman are the two characters that are both in live-action sequences and in animated voiceover, but the live-actions sequences are very brief and don’t offer much in the way creativity or innovation to their respective characters. That being said, Taylor-Joy’s singing is a bit of a surprise. It’s not exactly perfect, but definitely better than anyone else in the movie.
Of the three, Gaffigan, known for his stand-up comedy and appearances in Away We Go, My Boys, and Chappaquiddick, is probably the best voice talent of the feature. His usual laidback voice definitely lends credence and characterization to his character of Del, a food truck driver who gets caught up in Marla’s quest to find / save her brother. However, the script and material given him to play around with is rather dull, which make his character rather uninteresting and less funny that what he could’ve been. And that’s disappointing. Behind Gaffigan, the only other character that stands out is the character of Rex Dasher, a cool and collective secret agent, who is voiced by actor Daniel Radcliffe, known for his roles in the Harry Potter franchise as well as Now You See Me 2 and Swiss Army Man. It’s good to see (or rather hear) Radcliffe in a movie beyond his persona of “the boy who lived”, with his voicework for Rex is sly, witty, and debonair charm (something befitting of the classic secret agent). The main problem, however, the character of Rex Dashner is only in one segment of the movie, which is strange as the movie trailer for Playmobil: The Movie (at least the latest US trailer) heavily showcased him. Thus, his appearance in the movie is limited and the film’s movie trailer show most of his sequences, which is disappointing.
Then there is the film’s main antagonist character of Emperor Maximus, the evil ruler of the Roman-like city of Constatinopolis, who is played by singer Adam Lambert. While Lambert definitely has proven himself to a talented musician with his songs (I love his song “Whataya Want from Me”), but his voicework efforts in this movie are rather cringeworthy. Yes, I do get that the character of Emperor Maximums is supposed to be the projected cliché of a Roman Emperor (in all its various forms) as well as cartoon main villain (i.e. a bit megalomaniac-esque), but Lambert just doesn’t make the character his own. To be honest, he’s actually probably the weakest character in the film and the least memorable; offering up no “spotlight” moments for him to create. Thus, the unlikability of Emperor Maximus stems not just from Lambert’s woefully “unfunny” voicework, but also in the movie’s script thinly written script.
The rest of the cast, including actor Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live and Kenan & Kel) as the pirate captain Bloodbones, actress Wendi McLendon-Covey (Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween and Bridesmaids) as the alien crime lord Glinara, actor Dan Navarro (Glen Martin DDS and The Book of Life) as the unnamed Viking leader, actress Paloma Rodriguez (Alondra Smiles and Rage 2) as the Amazon warrior Valera, and musician Meghan Trainor as the Fairy Godmother, are in small supporting roles that are peppered throughout the feature. Unfortunately, like the rest of the cast, these talents are woefully uninteresting and lackluster from the word “go”. It’s not for a lack of trying on their part to make their character fun / amusing, but the end result of them all is just unmemorable and forgetful.
The world of Playmobil heads to the silver screen for their own cinematic adventure in the film Playmobil: The Movie. Director Lino DiSalvo directorial debut feature takes the classic toy line brand and translate its imaginary world into a kid’s animated movie; showcasing a classic “tried and true” narrative of having wonderous adventures. While the movie does an amusing late 80s throwback narrative to bookend the feature as well as some recognizable talents in the vocal departments, majority of the film is just woefully terrible, which derives from the bland script, dated narrative, lackadaisical humor, generic characters, a disappointing presentation, and (above all else) a complete unentertaining film. Personally, I didn’t particular care for this movie. Besides maybe some of the voice talents involved, I felt that the movie was derivatively bland, hodgepodge, weak, unfunny, and just a downright bore, with little entertainment; a sort of gimmicky premise that backfires. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a straight up “skip it” as there’s not much reason to see this movie. Even kids will probably find it to be a snoozer, with a better effort made by watching one of the recent LEGO Movies entries instead. When it’s all said and done, Playmobil: The Movie is an unsatisfying / cheap knock off to its LEGO brick counterpart that never quite knows what it wants (other than a quick “cash and grab” from its viewers). As one character says in the movie… “Life is not full of adventures! It’s full of disappointments!” ….and that’s exactly what Playmobil: The Movie is…. full is disappointments.
1.8 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: December 6th, 2019 (US Release Date)
Reviewed On: September 28th, 2019
Playmobil: The Movie is 99 minutes long and is rated N/A at this particular time for US’s MPAA