Released: 12th December
Seen: 23rd December
I don’t think we spend enough time really grappling with how surprisingly good Lego Movie and Lego Movie 2 were. Not only were both of them hilarious and wonderfully animated, but they both also had memorable soundtracks and a well thought out and touching tale about family and bringing them together. Sure they were also giant advertisements for the toy that’s caused more foot pain than ingrown toenails, bunions and athletes’ foot combined but it was a sweet and clever advertisement for that toy. Sure, Lego Ninjago wasn’t that great but Lego Batman made up for it. Movies about the tiny plastic figures going on adventures seems to actually work… when you’re a popular brand like Lego. When you’re Playmobil, also known as “What you buy for your kids when they’ve sold out of Lego”, turns out it doesn’t quite work out as well.
Playmobil: The Movie follows Marla (Anya Taylor-Toy) and Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), a brother and sister who like to play silly games, hang out together and enjoy having parents who are aliv- oh, oh no no we can’t have living parents in a kids movie. Yes, both parents are killed offscreen in a car accident which forces young Marla to grow up quickly, get a job and take general responsibilities. However, her brother, being an annoying little shit, doesn’t like that his big sister has to do things like “Work so he can eat” and “Keep an eye on him since the only parents they would ever get are now a permanent part of the pavement” so he runs away to a toy museum that’s nearby and Marla, being a responsible caregiver who put a tracker in his phone, follows him. Shenanigans happen and they end up being pulled into the Playmobil world which is finally when the animation portion of this animated movie can begin.
Once in Playmobil land, (I don’t know if it’s a world or a land, I don’t care, it’ll be interchangeable because I can’t be bothered to be consistent. The film didn’t bother to care, why should I?) the siblings end up caught in the middle of a Viking battle between people with red hair and people with brown hair. They also all appear to be similar to the Playmobil toys that Marla and Charlie used to play with but neither character seems to make a big deal out of this. They probably don’t make a big deal out of it because they’re just a little bit busy, what with Charlie being kidnapped by pirates (It is nowhere near as interesting as it sounds) and with Marla chasing after him. Thus begins the remainder of the movie where Marla must find Charlie and Charlie must avoid being thrown into toe Coliseum for the entertainment of one Emperor Maximus (Adam Lambert). Along the way, Marla will be helped by a food truck driver named Del (Jim Gaffigan) who doesn’t realise he could make money selling food, a James Bond parody character named Rex Dasher (Daniel Radcliffe) who is not quite a good parody but we’ll get into that later, and lastly, she’ll be helped by a Fairy Godmother (Meghan Trainor) who is not exactly good at her job.
The film tries desperately to copy The Lego Movie in so many ways that it’s impossible to ignore the comparison, even though the comparison is obvious and every single human being made it the second they saw the poster. Admit it, you looked at the poster for this movie and went “That looks like a shitty version of The Lego Movie” and then went on with your day as though nothing had happened. Well, this movie does more than just borrow the memory of The Lego Movie, it tries to steal the very heart of that original movie. The Lego Movie, at its core, is a story about a family coming together despite things like work or a natural dislike of a younger sibling tearing them apart. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it’s a moral that’s almost completely hidden until the final act when it delivers the emotional gut punch that kicks off the climax of the film. Here? Well, after the comical reveal that the parents are dead (seriously, I was giggling the entire time because the cops had their red and blue lights flickering outside the house where they plan to tell these kids that they’re orphans now. It was so melodramatic that I couldn’t help it) they keep trying to make the story about how the older sister gave up on her desire for adventure and how she needs to relax and have fun which is all well and good… except she is literally having to be an adult because her parents died. The actual emotional story they’re trying to tell doesn’t work because there’s an insanely valid reason for the older sister to be stricter, and she’s not even that strict. She’s acting like a normal parent and doesn’t even do anything that extreme. They don’t give us any reason to think there’s an actual problem and, therefore, I have no idea why I’m meant to care about either of these two. Hell, it’s never even made clear what lesson they need to learn in order to go from being Playmobil animated figures to being real people again.
On top of the actual stakes and story not being well thought out, this is a musical that never wanted to be a musical. It’s not just “Oh we’re going to sing some parts during the animated section”, no there is a full-blown musical number at the start during the live-action portion of the movie so it’s very clearly trying to be a full musical… right up until the final act, then it just abandons the musical element. Here’s how bad the musical element was, I just left the movie a few hours ago and I recall there being 4 musical numbers, One by the main character about how she wants to see the world (It’s passable), one by the Vikings celebrating Charlie (It’s OK), One by the villain (It’s the best song in the movie, and it’s just barely fine) and the Meghan Trainor song (…it’s Meghan Trainor, your opinion on her music dictates how you’ll feel about this song). It’s only now that I look it up that I learned there were apparently two more songs that I do not remember. Either they’re so forgettable that in the two hours since I saw the movie they have completely left my brain, or they were cut from the movie entirely but are still on the soundtrack.
Either way, it doesn’t matter because none of the songs are that memorable, the only half-decent one is the one sung by the guy Queen hired to replace Freddie Mercury (which means he knows how to sell a damn song) and none of them feels like they belong in the same musical. The Meghan Trainor one definitely doesn’t belong because it was going to be on her album but she instead gifted it to this movie. Also, I need to stress this, they stop bothering with the musical element in the third act. The second Marla’s fairy godmother finishes singing and sends Marla off to complete her quest, no more musical numbers. No big finale number, no nothing. It just slowly screeches to a stop without any more musical numbers, even though there are plenty of places they could’ve worked in a big finale… you know, like a musical would do. If you’re some weird experimental musical then sure, you get to stop the music half an hour before the end of your story but Playmobil: The Movie isn’t some weird experimental musical, it’s a family animated musical meant for kids so maybe try to keep giving a damn for the full 99 minutes?
Saying that the movie screeches to a stop might be too kind because the screech implies some form of forward momentum was going on and there really isn’t any in this film. We just go from one vague parody to another. From western to James Bond to Star Wars to the colosseum, imagery from each is clearly name-checked to remind the audience of the cool things you can make with Playmobil’s series of products. It’s not like there’s any reason for these things to be here as part of the themes of the movie, these things are picked because people looked at the Playmobil sets that were available and picked random crap out of a hat. To bring it back to the good version of this idea, The Lego Movie franchise had villains that directly related to the theme of bonding with family when the real world is tearing you apart (Lord Business was the father who worked all the time, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi was the sister who the brother looks at like she’s evil and trying to spoil his fun when all she wants is to play with her brother) and therefore you had some reason to connect with their relationship to the main character and it gave everything emotional resonance. Playmobil: The Movie’s main villain is a Roman emperor who wants to throw people into the colosseum to fight with a dinosaur. Do you want to guess what the thematic reasoning for this is? HA, trick question, there isn’t one. There’s a Romans Playmobil set and they combined that with a dinosaur for, again, no reason. This means that when we eventually have to go against the villain and do something it doesn’t matter because the villain has no connection to the main characters story arc, he’s there because Romans means colosseum which means we can have a decent location for the final fight. It’s pointless, the entire plot is pointless because none of it in any way relates to the thematic story they’re trying (badly) to tell.
The sad thing is that there are elements of this movie that almost work, provided that you squint and tilt your head a little bit. Some of the lines of dialogue are amusing. Intentionally amusing, not accidentally amusing. I see where they wrote jokes and I can hear the cast trying desperately to deliver them but the problem is that the jokes aren’t consistent and none are memorable. It helps that the cast is mostly pretty good. Daniel Radcliffe as a James Bond parody character is inspired casting and if they’d given him better jokes to work with it would’ve been great. I also really thought Adam Lambert as Emperor Maximus was a fun performance that again just lacked in the “Having jokes given to him” department. Honestly, if there were just some better jokes and the story had some relevance to the key idea of the movie then maybe this could’ve worked but without those, the film just died.
Even if I were to pretend I had never seen Lego Movie do this better, this film would still be a dud. Despite a cast that’s trying it’s hardest to make everything work and some animation that has real potential, the film as a whole falls victim to not understanding its own ideas and having a plot that ends up doing nothing for the main characters. No one grows, no one learns anything, nothing changes. The movie itself is very much like a Playmobil figure, pretty at first glance but it’s nothing but hollow plastic when you really look at it. Maybe really small kids would enjoy it but considering that the kids in my cinema were happier to just run around the seats for a few hours and didn’t even seem to pay attention to the film, I somehow doubt this would even capture a child’s attention.