Playmobil was animated at On Animation Studios in Montreal, Canada. For all that, it’s in many ways a European production. The story is based on the eponymous German toyline, historically a major Lego competitor. On Animation is part of the Paris-based company On Kids & Family, and the film was co-financed by French companies Wild Bunch and Pathé, and French producer Dimitri Rassam.
Playmobil was the opening film at this year’s Annecy Festival, a choice that was widely criticized by festival attendees and caused large numbers of the audience to leave in the middle of the film.
Production began back in 2015, when the animation world was still reeling from the success of Warner Bros.’s The Lego Movie. Open Road Films was originally due to distribute Playmobil in the U.S., but dropped it (as it did Arctic Dogs) after filing for bankruptcy last year. STX Entertainment then picked it up, but delayed the release again from August 30 to December 6, to avoid a clash with The Angry Birds Movie 2.
By now, the toy-based cg franchise craze triggered by The Lego Movie has somewhat abated. STX learned that the hard way, when its self-produced Uglydolls flopped in May. The Lego Movie’s own sequels have fallen short of the original’s box office earnings. This trend, as well as the dead zone and the extra squeeze from Frozen 2, may account for Playmobil’s dreadful projections.
As well as directing, DiSalvo wrote the story, with Blaise Hemingway, Greg Erb, and Jason Oremland sharing writing credits. The voice cast includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Gabriel Bateman, Jim Gaffigan, Daniel Radcliffe, Adam Lambert, Maddie Taylor, Kenan Thompson, Meghan Trainor, and (once again) DiSalvo.
To add to its woes, Playmobil has gone down badly with critics, many of whom compare it unfavorably with The Lego Movie. At the time of writing, the film has a dismal 20% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Guy Lodge didn’t mince his words in Variety:
An attempt to do for the smiling, claw-handed Playmobil collective what The Lego Movie did for the humble plastic brick — but without that blockbuster’s dizzy, self-aware wit and visual invention — Lino DiSalvo’s hyperactive film never transcends its blatant product-flogging purpose.
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw agreed, awarding the film two stars:
The Lego Movie franchise has been one of the funniest, smartest things in the cinema and even the Angry Birds movies were pretty good — so hopes were counterintuitively pretty high for Playmobil: The Movie. Disappointingly, it is a borderline dopey, sentimental children’s adventure mostly without the wit and spark that converted grownups and kids to the Lego films… The film throws up some entertaining bits along the way, but for those of us who are used to the turbocharged irony and comedy-rocket fuel of the Lego world, this is a letdown.
Nell Minow on RogerEbert.com wrote that Playmobil works neither as a film or a commercial, and that its tone is disturbing for its intended audience:
And it fails to justify itself as a film, with a lackluster storyline that does not try to keep consistent the rules of the world it creates. After a whole scene establishing the limited mobility of the Playmobil characters, they suddenly switch to being able to have human-like joints and range of motion. It does not even work as a commercial, never showing us why these toys could be especially fun to play with.
More troubling, this is a movie for young children that begins (in live-action) with a teenager and her six-year-old brother opening the door of their home to a pair of police officers, who have come to tell them that their parents have been killed in an accident. Stories about children need to get the parents out of the way somehow so the kids can have an adventure, but this is too intense and shocking for film’s tone and likely to upset younger children.
Reviewing the film in the London Evening Standard, where she gave it three stars, Charlotte O’Sullivan found things to like, even while saying that the film would best be appreciated by stupid people:
It’s The Lego Movie for dummkopfs. With crappy songs. But for a movie so clearly doubling as product placement, it’s also fun, a cartoon (bookended by live-action sequences) which allows talented actors to riff on unexpected themes.