Wait, what? They made a movie about Playmobil? The stuff that’s not Lego, but really wants to be? Isn’t this just a pound shop version of The Lego Movie?
The above is a perfectly valid thought process when hearing about Playmobil: The Movie. The German line of construction toys is not as well-known as its Danish counterpart and, without the line of corporate tie-ins, it’s a slightly trickier proposition for a big screen story. Director Lino DiSalvo’s movie, however, largely sticks the landing in delivering a warm and enjoyable family adventure that will almost certainly sell a boatload of toys.
Perhaps bravely, the film holds back its animated world of colourful figures for much of the first act, focusing on high school dreamer Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her bond with Playmobil-obsessed younger brother Charlie (Ryan S. Hill, initially, and Child’s Play star Gabriel Bateman after an early flash-forward), complete with a hyper-earnest musical number about wanting to get away and explore the world. A very Disney plot development forces Marla to abandon her dreams, at least until Charlie runs off into a toy expo and they find themselves magically thrust into an animated Playmobil world.
Soon, Charlie is part of a Viking horde, right up until he is kidnapped by the henchmen of evil Emperor Maximus (Adam Lambert) with a view to being thrown into his gladiatorial arena. Marla, who doesn’t get a cool makeover and is basically just a plastic version of herself, must track her brother down in order for them to return to the real world and she enlists the help of a sort of animated Del Boy (Jim Gaffigan) – he’s even called Del – who sells enchanted bales of hay to pay off his debt to a Jabba the Hutt-esque crime lord (Maddie Taylor).
The relationship between Marla and Del is a pretty well-worn dynamic – it’s essentially an animated Leia and Han – and it offers very few surprises. The same is true of just about everything else in terms of these characters, with Bateman’s viking joining forces with a generically ragtag bunch of other captives to take on a villain who is queer-coded in a way that feels rather stranded in the world of 1990s Disney films.
However, the film has a great deal of fun with these archetypes, delivering a movie that is so earnest that it’s impossible not to enjoy it. While The Lego Movie thrived in its smart, self-referential snark, Playmobil: The Movie is a more childlike adventure, aiming squarely at the young audience who will subsequently tug at their parents’ sleeves every time they see the toys in a shop window. Indeed, there’s real joy in how thoroughly this movie embraces its kiddie audience, resisting any urge to play to the adult crowd.
Like any sprawling family adventure, Playmobil: The Movie comes with an array of exciting supporting characters. Chief among them is the dashing, Bond-esque secret agent Rex Dasher – his regularly reprised theme tune proclaims him “so dreamy” – played by Daniel Radcliffe. His macho bravado is the highlight of the film and it’s admirable that Radcliffe, aware that he perhaps doesn’t have the physicality to ever wear 007’s iconic tuxedo, throws himself fully into the role of a slightly pathetic sleazebag with an arsenal of gadgets. One particular joke about the origin of the criminal acronym ‘SKULL’ gets the biggest laugh in the movie.
It might be a generic animated adventure for most of its runtime, but there’s a sense of uncomplicated joy to Playmobil: The Movie that makes it a really enjoyable ride. Anya Taylor-Joy, who has been so brilliant in so many interesting films from The Witch to the underseen indie Thoroughbreds, is clearly having the time of her life here, throwing everything at a role that allows her to embrace her most warm-hearted character to date.
Obviously, just as with the array of Lego cinematic releases, Playmobil: The Movie is essentially just an extended advert for the toy range. But, with that in mind, it’s all the more impressive that this is a film which feels entirely free of corporate cynicism. It’s there, of course, but it hides it well.
Dir: Lino DiSalvo
Scr: Blaise Hemingway, Greg Erb, Jason Oremland
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Gabriel Bateman, Jim Gaffigan, Adam Lambert, Daniel Radcliffe, Dino Andrade, Maddie Taylor
Prd: Moritz Borman, Dimitri Rassam, Aton Soumache, Alexis Vonarb
Music: Heitor Pereira
Country: France, Germany
Run time: 99 mins
Playmobil: The Movie is in UK cinemas from 9th August.