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When you are a film fan, it’s extremely easy to overlook the fact that making a film is an incredibly challenging feat of art to make happen. You have to make sure multiple parts of this machine are running, and if anything happens, you have to make sure you are prepared for such situations. This is especially true with animated features. You can’t just delay something or just say “redo this scene, you got three weeks” unless you just introduce crunch periods, which are never a good thing. Animation takes time, and more so than most films that get made. You have to hand-craft everything from scratch. Sometimes, animation projects get wrung through the wringer, and due to bad luck, timing, and other elements, it could mean a bunch of hard-working and very talented individuals that made the film probably were given a bad project, and the final product will not be as good as they intended it to be. I wish more animation fans would understand that. So, what’s with the long paragraph? It’s because I want to talk about Playmobil: The Movie.
Directed by Lino DiSalvo, who was the head of the animation for Frozen, based on the “popular” toyline of the same name, produced by Method Animation, On Animation Studios, and DMS Entertainment, and distributed by STX Entertainment, Playmobil is another animation flop in a year full of animated flops. Having originally been pitched around to studios like Sony, the film started production in 2014 and was supposed to come out by 2017. Bob Persichetti was originally the director and writer of the film at Sony, but then the pitch fell through, and Bob went on to direct 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In 2016, the rights were then bought by Open Road Films to distribute it in the US, got Lino DiSalvo to direct, and the film’s budget was going to be $40 mil. Then in 2018 Open Roads went bankrupt, and STX Entertainment bought the rights to the film. Playmobil was shown around the world, and was even the opening night film for 2019’s Annecy Film Festival. It was met with mostly negative reactions that were so bad that people walked out midway through the film’s run. This also isn’t counting all the delays and money trouble STX was having, and the film finally landed with a dead-on-arrival thud on December 6th, 2019 and the UK in August 2019. It was a critical failure and a financial bomb as of writing this review. It has only gained $13 mil on that $40 mil budget. It became one of the top five worst domestic releases in over two-thousand theatres and shares the same spot as other noticeable failures like Delgo. Yeah, that’s quite a ride, and I feel badly for the talented people that were working on this film. So, is it worth all of this panning, and did it deserve to bomb in theaters? Well, let’s look at it!
Our story focuses on a sister and her younger brother named Marla and Charlie, played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Gabriel Bateman. Marla promises Charlie a world of adventure and fun, but those plans are abruptly halted by a tone change of them finding out their parents died. No real explanation as to how they died, but they died. After some time passes, Marla becomes the new breadwinner of the house, and has to take on the adult responsibilities while her brother has become a handful to deal with. Charlie then calls out Marla for not being fun anymore, and runs away to this toy convention downtown. She runs after him and finds him at this Playmobil display, and the two get sucked into the world of Playmobil. They get separated, and it is up to Marla to find Charlie and get out of there. Along the way, Marla encounters a food truck driver/delivery man named Del, voiced by Jim Gaffigan, and the two must avoid the evil clutches of Emperor Maximus, voiced by Adam Lambert.
So, let’s talk about marketing. Normally I don’t do this, because most of the time unless the director has an iron grip on the situation, marketing is done more by the studio and the crew doesn’t have a say in what gets shown. You may have noticed I didn’t mention Rex Dasher, Daniel Radcliffe’s character. Technically, from the trailer, he was the main character. Well, that’s not even close to being true. As many have mentioned, Rex Dasher is only in the film at most for 10 minutes. He’s not the main character, and I’m wondering if this was to try and get some of that synergy vibe from Spies in Disguise. It’s not like other trailers for Playmobil: The Movie are non-existent. They are around, and the American marketing has hidden the fact that this film opens and closes with live-action sequences as if this film was made in the 90s or early 2000s when those live-action remakes of animated properties were huge. It’s some of the worst marketing I have seen for an animated film, and the director and his team didn’t deserve this kind of marketing.
I think the studio knew that they didn’t have a hit, and tried to twist it as much as possible to be appealing, but here is the thing, no one cares about Playmobil anymore. Or, at the very least, it’s still not super popular. The problem is that this film wants to be The LEGO Movie when the Playmobil toyline itself was not interesting or creative. It doesn’t help that the toys were more plastic than anything else. Yes, they had brand tie-ins, but of course, this film wasn’t going to be able to afford those licenses, and all we are left with are generic toys and characters. What worked about The LEGO Movie is that beyond having LEGO Batman and all of the tie-in references, LEGO Movie was still able to be creative and thoughtful. Sadly, Playmobil was not that. It doesn’t have a good creative core that it can work off of. It has one pretty good joke at the beginning when they play with the fact that Playmobil figures are infamously stiff, but they break that one rule within seconds. There is nothing here about this film’s world that makes me think of anything creative. It looks and feels like any normal animated film out there. Say what you will about LEGO Ninjago or any of the LEGO Movies that were released in theaters, they at least make you think of LEGO as a brand and identity. It’s not like Playmobil doesn’t try to get creative as it introduces a bunch of side characters from different realms, but they never stuck with me, because most of the stuff is fairly generic.
Also, this film is a musical! Yeah, if there was one thing this film hid more than the live-action sequences and Radcliffe as not the main character, it’s the fact this film has musical sequences. I know Meghan Trainor and Adam Lambert wrote original songs for this film, and I’m sure this was probably the first time for someone who wrote the songs, but the music in this film is hugely forgettable. No real hooks or anything all that interesting. While it may not be as bad as Jeremy Renner’s songs used in Arctic Dogs, I found very little to like about the music in this film. I think the only one who had any fun with their number is Adam Lambert, but that’s because he’s probably the most talented person there, and is having fun with his character.
This reminds me, I didn’t talk about the characters. That’s because most of the cast is dull, forgettable, or unlikeable. Anna Taylor-Joy is sleepwalking through this film. Gabriel Bateman is also not all that interesting as a kid, and he’s despicable as a character at first. He has the gall to call his sister a terrible person because she now has to take adult responsibilities with the house and taking care of him. I mean, yes, he’s a kid, but he should be lucky that he’s not on the street or in an orphanage. The other cast members don’t have anything to them outside of their one character trait.
I know I’m railing on this one hard, but it’s because I was rooting for it to not be an empty experience, and I got one, but there are a few elements that I did like about it. I think the animation is pretty decent. It’s nothing mindblowing and doesn’t go all the way with the aesthetic of Playmobil, but it’s not bad. Like I said above, most of the characters are boilerplate boring, but at least it seems like Radcliffe and Lambert were the most energized of the bunch. Unlike most of the cast, they were the two you really couldn’t replace. While most of the jokes land flat, a funny joke does pop in from time to time. Not enough of them are funny, but I did get a chuckle here or there.
Normally, I would save this film for a review that’s all about notorious film fiasco, but I really couldn’t do that. It’s not that it didn’t fit the bill, because, I mean, come on, but animation reviewing needs to be improved upon, and that’s taking into considering with how we frame the way we talk about films. Playmobil: The Movie is not good, and it’s going to end up in my bottom 5 animated films of the year. However, I do feel badly for the talented people involved. Like I said, some of the crew that made this film worked with Disney in the past, and it’s not even an offensively bad film. It’s harmless, and at worst, it’s a mediocre film that was a bad idea from the get-go that could have been something great if it was given the right attention. I would say don’t check this film out, but because no one is seeing that film, I think that’s already a given. I hope the people who worked on this keep getting work, and they get to do something more rewarding in the future. Now then, let’s get to the DC animated films I need to catch up on with what I consider to be 2019’s weakest DC animated feature, Batman Hush.
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Rating: The Worst/Blacklist