PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE. (PG)
Filmmakers are working its way down to the very bottom of the toy box with Playmobil: The Movie.
That's probably a bit unfair of me, coloured by the fact that I am so old that the Playmobil range of plastic children's toys only hit the market 45 years ago, when my toy box was already full.
Nowhere near as ubiquitous to childhood as Lego, it nonetheless had going for it its size and sturdiness, meaning your children couldn't put them up their noses, and probably wouldn't break when they tried. Still, the cute little toy Vikings and knights and animals and cars have been played with in millions of homes.
Now this big-budget feature film comes to try and capture some of that magic that Lego happened upon with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's 2014 feature, and the two dozen other large-and-small-screen other films they've cleverly developed and marketed.
Actually, this time it wasn't Hollywood that came calling, but French studios Pathe and ON Animation Studios. They're banking on a lot, and by that I mean the 63 million euro budget quoted on the film's IMDB listing, on animator Lino DiSalvo working the same magic for them that he did as head of animation on Frozen, and dozens of other films across his 17 years at Disney.
The animation is terrific, with the kind of bright lustre that attracts kids to nag their parents into buying these toys, fuelled by world-making that ought to inspire a lot more sales of the little characters, cars, boats, trucks and panorama. Which is the point.
The plot seems to be a nod to a number of sources, particularly a mash-up of Tom Hanks' Big meets any one of the Lego films.
This is a cutesy film for a younger audience, but what I find somewhat astounding, with about $100 million on the line, is the complete lack of humour and nuance in the screenplay
Marla (Anna Taylor-Joy) has just graduated from high school and shares her secret plans for a gap year before college with younger brother Charlie (Gabriel Bateman).
When bad news reaches the two kids, Marla has to grow up too fast.
Suddenly humourless in her new role as parent to Charlie, Marla is saying "No" an awful lot.
So Charlie runs off to a fair, Marla follows and some magic chariot of the gods finds them suddenly becoming little plastic figurines in a Playmobil landscape.
Charlie has turned into a Viking, and finds himself adventuring apart from his sister.
She spends the better part of the film searching for her brother, aided by food truck driver Del (Jim Gaffigan) and British super spy Rex Dasher (Daniel Radcliffe).
Joining Harry Potter on the voice work is singer Meghan Trainor, Kenan Thompson, and in the film's best moments, Adam Lambert voicing Emperor Maximus, the bad guy.
Lambert also belts out the best of the film's many musical numbers.
This is a cutesy film for a younger audience, but what I find somewhat astounding, with about $100 million on the line, is the complete lack of humour and nuance.
Children want to go see these films, but grown-ups have to take them, and they also need to be entertained.
I'd like to think the script, credited to five writers with Lino DiSalvo getting a "story by", was so workshopped as it was dragged across the borders between its French production company and the German Playmobil HQ that any kind of wit got lost in translation.
Better-written big-budget fare like the Lego films and everything from Pixar have ruined us to children's entertainment that is just "good enough".
Damned by faint praise.