Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 22, 2020)
After the success of various Lego films, did a feature based on a similar toy line become inevitable? Apparently, as that feels like the best explanation for the existence of 2019’s Playmobil: The Movie.
College-aged Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her younger brother Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) suddenly find themselves orphaned when their parents die in a car accident. Rather than take a “gap year” to backpack around Europe, Marla suddenly finds herself as the head of the household.
Four years later, Marla struggles to keep the home together, but Charlie rebels against her rules and her strict personality. He runs away and finds himself at a massive Playmobil toy exhibition.
Marla finds him there, and while the siblings fight, something magical happens that transports them into a fantasy world in which they take they shape of Playmobil figures. Marla needs to figure out how to get the two of them back to the real world, all while they experience a slew of adventures.
With a worldwide take of $468 million, 2014’s Lego Movie became a major hit. However, its successors fared less well.
2017’s Lego Batman brought in $311 million, but that same year’s Lego Ninjago Movie sputtered to a mere $123 million.
2019’s Lego Movie 2 rebounded from the lows of Ninjago, but not by nearly as much as expected. With a worldwide gross of $192 million, it may signify the end of Lego films as theatrical properties.
All of those grosses look Endgame-like compared to the business done by Playmobil. This film took in a shockingly poor $16 million worldwide, with only $1 million of that in the US. Even with a low $40 million budget, the movie clearly lost buckets of money.
Did the film deserve such failure? No, as it seems like painless entertainment, not some career-crushing atrocity.
Still, I can’t claim Playmobil merits a mass audience. At its best, it goes down as innocuous kiddie fare, but it never becomes anything more than vaguely mediocre.
Expect Playmobil to borrow liberally from the first Lego flick, especially in the way it joins live action and animation. Both blur the lines between fantasy and reality, though Lego Movie does so in a somewhat more convincing and logical manner.
One could argue the Lego series at least partially existed to sell toys, but that feels even more true with Playmobil. While the Lego flicks featured a slew of characters and settings, it came with enough self-awareness to allow them to fit together in a goofy manner.
Here, however, the wide variety of locations and genres feels nearly random. Rather than integrate in a clever, delightful way, the shifts from Vikings to cowboys to spies, etc., just seem like an attempt to spotlight all the toys on the market.
This means we get a nearly random storyline. Sure, Marla’s attempt to rescue Charlie and return home acts as the overall narrative, but virtually no internal logic ensues, as Marla simply wanders through various places and meets different characters in a manner that seems borderline nonsensical.
Again, I could envision a less entertaining version of Playmobil, and it boasts a decent cast. In addition to Taylor-Joy, we find Daniel Radcliffe, Jim Gaffigan, Kenan Thompson and others.
All offer competent performances, though don’t expect as much of Radcliffe’s “Rex Danger” as the ads imply. The DVD’s cover and various promotional materials imply Rex acts as the lead role, but instead, he doesn’t even pop up until 40 minutes into the movie, and after that, he still plays a fairly small part.
Despite a few minor positives, Playmobil: The Movie largely lacks charm. Essentially 100 minutes of product placement, the flick becomes modest entertainment at most.