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maryann johanson, striking from a hidden base

Playmobil: The Movie movie review: a cheap ad disguised as a movie (barely)

Playmobil the Movie red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

This plastic horror — horrifically, it’s a musical — is a head-smackingly dumb exercise in corporate filmmaking and mercenary marketing. So crass it makes me rethink my love of the toys themselves.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): stop with the based-on-a-toy movies
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female coprotagonist
(learn more about this)

We could blame the enormous — and justifiable — success of the Lego flicks for the existence of Playmobil: The Movie, but that would be unfair to all the shameless knockoffs, cinematic-coattail riders, and other scum and villainy of Hollywood. Because such criminals usually make a nod at attempting to capture some of the magic of whatever box-office smash they’re copying. Yet it’s plain that no one involved in this cartoon nightmare could be bothered to even blatantly steal any of the delightful wit and keen self-awareness of that other franchise.

This plastic horror is nothing more than an insipid exercise in corporate filmmaking and mercenary marketing that reads more like an 80s Saturday-morning-cartoon attempt to sell toys than an actual movie… you know, a story with characters to care about and an adventure worth going on. I think the movie thinks it has captured the feeling of playing with Playmobil fantasy and historical playsets, mishmashing Vikings and gladiators, dinosaurs and cowboys, etc. But it’s so crass and phony that it actually makes me reconsider my love of the toys themselves, which I adored as a kid and still have a soft spot for. Was I merely a brainwashed little consumer, a blissfully ignorant object of cheap manipulation by a global company shilling bits of colorful polymer? *sob*

Playmobil The Movie

The horror of discovering that you have no fingers…

Call me weird, but I don’t think a movie about a beloved toy should end up making you feel worse about that toy.

And yet here we are. When two human siblings, 20something Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy: Glass (2019), Morgan) and tween Charlie (Gabriel Bateman: Annabelle), get sucked into a world of Playmobil realms, they discover 18th-century pirates doing contract work for Roman emperors and fairy godmothers hanging out with robots. But it’s all pointlessly random and head-smackingly dumb, even when it sounds on paper like it might be funny: Daniel Radcliffe (Now You See Me 2, Victor Frankenstein) as the voice of an idiot James Bond knockoff called Rex Dasher, anyone? Embarrassing. Here be dragons… and here’s a guy, Del (the voice of Jim Gaffigan: Hot Pursuit, Experimenter), who — *checks notes* — drives a food truck and sells “enchanted hay”? Sure, what children’s movie doesn’t call for a major character who’s a weed dealer and makes burritos as his side gig?

Call me weird, but I don’t think a movie about a beloved toy should end up making you feel worse about that toy.

Bad enough, the crotch-injury “humor” — yes, apparently, even solid-plastic groins are vulnerable — and deeply terrible songs; yes, this is, horrifically, nominally a musical. Worse is the setup for the entire ordeal, which posits Marla as a no-fun curmudgeon whose love of the notion of having adventures was squashed merely because — *checks notes again* — the kids’ parents were killed in a car crash and now she has been raising her little brother for the past four years instead of traveling the world, like she’d planned. (Charlie gets transformed into an awesome Viking in the Playmobil world. Marla remains stick-in-the-mud pseudo-mom… until running around Plastic World cures her. Ugh.) I wish I could say that if you squint hard enough, you might see this whole thing as a sort of stress-induced delusion suffered by a young woman bending under the weight of too much responsibility and clearly no help whatsoever. But that’s not the case. The Vikings get to sing a song about what a buzzkill Marla is; Del sarcastically scoffs about the possibility of her having a good time. Eventually the fairy godmother (the voice of Meghan Trainor: Smurfs: The Lost Village) will regale her with a wannabe “showstopper” about how Marla just needs to believe in herself, as if that’s been an issue at all. It hasn’t. (The three screenwriters — newbie Blaise Hemingway and the team of Greg Erb and Jason Oremland (The Princess and the Frog) — are all men. Maybe they shouldn’t have been.)

Playmobil The Movie

Rex Dasher, secret idiot…

The animation is weird and inconsistent: a big joke is made out of how Marla, when she first materializes in her Playmobil body, can’t walk because she has no knees… and then knees inexplicably appear and she can walk fine. Everyone has elbows, too, which the toy figures also don’t have. Everyone is stuck with those clamshell hands, yet they are still able to manipulate chopsticks as desired. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it; it’s just stuff the movie doesn’t want to have to cope with. The director is Lino DiSalvo, an animator making his feature debut. I’d have expected an animator to care more about this.

Oh, and there’s a gangster character who is an appalling ripoff of Jabba the Hut; Del owes her money, and promises her double. C’mon.

The massive collection of narrative clichés that make up this sorry excuse for a movie don’t even make sense or have any flow from one to the next. There’s not a single thing to like here. It’s all joyless, lifeless, and aimless.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2019’s other theatrical releases.



red light 0 stars

Playmobil: The Movie (2019) | directed by Lino DiSalvo
US/Can release: Dec 06 2019
UK/Ire release: Aug 09 2019

MPAA: rated PG for action/peril and some language
BBFC: rated U (very mild fantasy violence, threat, language)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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