It’s the movie we are pretty sure no one asked for but this August the very first Playmobil movie will be hitting the big screen. And this has got us wondering whether any toy franchise is safe from being brought to life as a feature film. That said, there is a strong cinematic history of turning everyday toys into a fleshed-out film and, with some proving hugely lucrative, its no wonder they’re scraping the toy store clean. However, toy-films have been executed with varying degrees of success and, with some big flops, Playmobil is undoubtedly as much of a risk of being a train wreck as it may be brilliant. So let’s look at some other movies based on toys.
The Lego Movie (2014)
The Lego company started a whole 86 years ago and the famous plastic bricks have been encouraging creativity around the globe since 1947. The announcement of The Lego Movie undoubtedly raised a few eyebrows as Lego had little in the way of predetermined and popular characters.
However, The Lego Movie was – excuse the pun – playing no games and signed a stellar voice cast of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks and Channing Tatum as well as the on-screen presence of Will Ferrell. Such huge names created a buzz around the film which did not disappoint garnering a hugely popular reception. The catchy albeit cheesy soundtrack “Everything is Awesome” and the other wholesome and positive messages of the film, meant everyone left The Lego Movie feeling upbeat and nostalgic for our favourite brick-shaped toy. It was so popular in fact, it was directly linked to a shortage of Lego products in September of the year of its release. Winning a BAFTA for Best Animated Film and spawning two follow up films – The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Movie Two – this franchise has certainly proven that toys are perfect for movie adaptation.
Not many toys have as wholesome a beginning as our favourite crazy-haired little people – Trolls. Created in 1959 by Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam and originally named “Dam Dolls’ – these squat little creatures and their wacky hairstyles escaped their provincial beginnings and soon became a huge fad in the USA.
It was clear with voice actors such as Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and even Gwen Stefani on board that the Trolls movie was always destined to be a sing-a-long, musical joy ride at its heart. And with the painfully catchy theme song “Can’t Stop the Feeling” winning an Academy Award, Trolls delivered on its promise of an upbeat couple of hours of pure fun. That said it seems the soundtrack undeniably gathered more award nominations than the film itself, but whilst it wasn’t particularly complex or surprising – Trolls raked in $346 million on a $125 million budget. What’s more – a sequel has been announced for 2020 with some more huge names including Mary J Blige and Kelly Clarkson. So no one could have been disappointed with how well this little doll whittled out of wood made its mark in cinema.
Originating from Japan, Transformers toys were brought to the North American market in 1984 and became popular for their diverse design. With a young and seductive cast lead by Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox with Steven Speilberg on board producing, it seemed Transformers was gearing up to be more than just a quaint tale of childhood figurines. Not holding back on CGI, Transformers successfully brought these toys to life, instilling them with character and creating a beautiful aesthetic of how these metallic droids fold and unfold to change their form. Now, the “boy and his car” story from the first Transformers movie has been followed up by five sequel films and a spin-off – showing no signs of stopping.
That said the reception of the Transformers films has been mixed at best and, at its worst, caused outright offence. Accusations of racial stereotypes and objectifying women amongst other things tainted reviews for the films and in some ways, whilst Transformers looks great, in other ways it continues to miss the mark. Nevertheless, with each passing addition to the franchise the budget for the film has grown and there has been a healthy return so we can’t imagine we will see the end of Transformers for a long time.
GI Joe (2009)
GI Joe – or the rather less catchy, “GI Joe: America’s Movable Figurine Man” is the all-American action hero toy brought to the market by Hasbro way back in 1964. This toy very much does what it says on the tin. The idea was to produce a ‘realistic’ action figure based on the common US solider (and presumably intended to ignite patriotic hearts in children all over the country).
Many would have thought GI: Joe was therefore the perfect figurine for a film adaptation and the hotly anticipated GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra was released in 2009. With some great cast members like Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt – the GI Joe film read like a recipe for success. What could go wrong? Apparently a few things did. Paramount decided not to screen the film first for critics which must have perhaps suggested they knew GI Joe was going to go down like a lead balloon with reviewers.
Overall, the film was slammed across the board with those liking it seeming to praise it only for how its ridiculousness made it fun. Nevertheless, some of us must have appreciated the slightly silly action sequences and ludicrous plot twists as a sequel – GI Joe: Retaliation – was released in 2013 and there is a promised third instalment and even whispers of a spin-off next year. So don’t worry folks, it doesn’t look like this toy won’t be leaving our screens any time soon.
Masters of the Universe (1987)
Where to start with this adaptation? Taking inspiration from the Mattel toy line character He-Man, Masters of the Universe was a huge critical and commercial failure on every level. Released back in 1987, it made a loss of $5 million and was sentenced to cinematic death by reviewers. However, the film was beloved by a niche group of 80s kids who loved the toys and, like many divisive films of this nature, Master of the Universe found its way to cult status.
For those unfamiliar with the film, it is a story of two teenagers who happen to meet a jacked-up blonde-bobbed hero named He-Man from the planet Eternia. He is out to save the universe from the evil Skeletor and if you think it sounds over the top and a little cringe-inducing you will not be disappointed. It feels for all the love Masters of the Universe has slowly accumulated over time, it would be sad if it was the only toy-film on this list not to receive a sequel. Which is why we were very excited to learn in 2021, after many years of speculation and a mere 34 years of getting over the first one – there are promises of the follow up film it deserves.
Last… and perhaps least, comes one of the wildest stretches of the imagination we have seen in turning a toy into a cinematic feature. Loosely-based (and by that we mean incredibly loosely based) on the iconic Battleship board game that graced many of our childhoods – Battleship took many of us by surprise as a choice for a film interpretation. A slow-paced game where you used to sneak a peek as to where your siblings had put their ships and try and chip away at them bit by bit – many would never have expected a Hollywood, big-budget interpretation of this game – let alone that it would feature an alien invasion. As we said, incredibly ‘loosely based’.
A trailer promised some big names, big action sequences, tons of CGI and big noise – and in this sense the film did not disappoint. If you can overlook a lot of things to enjoy a film then perhaps the fun visual effects and action scenes brought the high-octane excitement many of us were hoping for.
However, generally the consensus was the execution of the film was awkward and the script was incredibly poor. And whilst Battleship might not have been expecting any award-nominations – actors Liam Neeson and Rhianna unfortunately found themselves nominated for Golden Raspberries for their performances. There has, unsurprisingly been no sign of a sequel to Battleship just yet but it did come with a video game so we’ll have to occupy ourselves with that for now.
There you have it – some of the brilliant and sometimes bizarre ways cinema has adapted toys for film. Are there any other toy films you have loved or hated? Or any toys you think deserve to be brushed up for the big screen? Tell us in the comments below. For now, we’re off to petition for a badass interpretation of Sylvanian Families.