Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: yes, there are parallels between The Lego Movie and Playmobil: The Movie. Both born from toys and even sharing the simplistic brand-name “movie” heading, there are attempts that Playmobil: The Movie desperately wants to separate itself from its brick-building counterpart. A fully-fledged musical with at least six new, unique songs on the soundtrack and a world that is firmly established in “the real world” from the start, Playmobil: The Movie believes it is different from the pack. It wants us to travel while simultaneously keeping us in the exact same place. Could this be the enormous hole at the heart of Playmobil: The Movie? Desperately trying to carve out something different but ultimately, when summed up, it is just too similar to ignore? Sadly, despite some charming gags and sweet moments, this toyfest is primarily an extended advert that cannot shake the shackles of its aisle, and now cinematic, competitor.
Beginning with Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy) desperate to travel and leave the family nest, telling her younger brother Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) about the world she’ll see, the two kids are met with a darker fate as their parents – and brace yourself – are killed in a car accident that evening. Marla is therefore tasked to raise Charlie and abandons her plans to travel. Years later, Marla has changed and Charlie flees the house after an argument. Marla now believes real life sucks and dreams are for losers – and in fairness, she has had an exceptionally tough break. Naturally Marla runs after Charlie and it leads both into an enormous Playmobil exhibition, magic happens, and they are thrown into the wacky and constantly changing world of Playmobil.If you look hard enough, there is a plot-device from Hook buried within this fantasy-land adventure. After a cringe-worthy opening number, it shifted the tone to one that had enormous potential. The idea that Marla, like Robin Williams’ older Peter Pan, forgot to dream as she grew up. This is a wonderful narrative that could engage children and adults alike (yes, I am a fan of Hook). But I suspect the tick-list for Playmobil: The Movie, rather than aspiring to challenge the attitudes of viewers, chose to be inferior to the likes of Pixar, Laika and Studio Ghibli and settle for the simplest of plots: dream big and travel the world. Ironically enough, as mentioned, this “world” is merely contained within the universe of Playmobil. Whether we begin with Vikings and then a Roman villain and then cut to a Western and the tech-savvy future, we’re in a chaotic, ever-changing dreamworld that clearly embraces the enormous scope of the manufacturer. But Playmobil: The Movie cannot help but draw out those comparisons again. When we cut to the city, we meet Daniel Radcliffe voicing Rex Dasher, a James Bond-a-like with a name shockingly similar to Rex Dangervest, a key role in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.
The fact that The Lego Movie 2 also shared a sibling conflict, only adds to the long list of struggles that stop Playmobil: The Movie from really striking off into a new direction. Scene after scene feels like a rehash of something we’ve seen before. Even the joyful, camp songs are so sickly sweet that the grinning faces and dead eyes become a little too false to truly enjoy the moment. Parents will recognise the brand as it dominates enormous spaces in toy stores across the country with Playmobil versions of Ghostbusters, Spirit and even odd characters in niche art pieces. But for all the moments of fun that kids will enjoy, it is unlikely that this will become a favourite for years to come. Playmobil: The Movie toys with going all-out in its musical and chaotic world-building, but it lacks the spark, imagination and inventiveness to dent the increasingly busy landscape of based-on-toys movies.