Note: The program is "Not Rated", but for the record, it seems like a G.
When I was young, I never got the hang of saving money (I still haven't, really), and I would flip through toy catalogs wishing I could win the lottery. One of the catalogs I would receive was the Playmobil catalog, and I think if I could have had any type of toy, I'd have just barely chosen Playmobil over Legos. Something that has always fascinated me about miniatures and toys is the accessories, and Playmobil's were the best. Police sets came with tiny stop signs, cones and fire extinguishers, a family camper set packed in two bicycles, a table and dishes, firemen came with fire extinguishers, stop signs and road flares. I can't pin down why I liked how elaborate and meticulous all of this stuff was, but it looked pretty awesome to me.
Browsing the DVDTalk screener pile, I noticed that the Playmobil line is alive and well, delving into the same alternative entertainment arena that's been serving Lego pretty well. I admit, I probably wouldn't be interested in, say, a Playmobil branded video game the way I was drawn towards Lego Batman on the Wii, nor would I have ever looked into this DVD if it weren't free (since I don't have kids, and I swear I'm no longer looking to purchase any Playmobil sets), but I still thought it might be sort of amusing and a touch nostalgic to check it out anyway.
This being branded kids' entertainment, I was worried that the film might be packed to the gills with terrible comedy and overacting, but The Secret of Pirate Island is a pretty easygoing, colorful film that doesn't try too hard. While the disc seems a little late in this regard, it's clearly designed to capitalize on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (the pirates face off against a bunch of skeletons, and an octopus takes the place of the kraken). Again, I don't have kids, and I haven't watched a lot of kid-centric entertainment, but it seems like a good (if not the best) substitute for audiences too young to watch the Johnny Depp movies.
Looking at the cover, I was also wondering how cheap the animation would look, but in motion, the plastic texture of the Playmobil characters is reasonably appealing. Admittedly, the logical side of me knows that a movie is just a big, long advertisement for the toys, but this particular effort doesn't reek too strongly of cash-in. There are also the strangest references in this movie for grown-ups that I've ever heard: Captain Gruff's parrot is named "Seabiscuit", multiple "big bad voodoo daddy" references and a four-piece band designed after four different famous musicians. The band sings three songs, the latter two of which are pretty good and feature the cleverest direction the film has to offer.
As far as lessons go, the film teaches kids not to steal, to play together, and to overcome their fears. Amusingly, the film also seems to subtly teach them not to annoy their parents, respect their elders, and enjoy doing chores. On some of these counts, the message isn't all-encompassing: the pirates are allowed to steal, because they're pirates, and the fear that the young girl conquers is heights, which some parents may worry about their own kids trying to "conquer". Now, I'd be surprised to hear that any little girls ended up climbing ladders and fell off their rooftops or climbed trees and got stuck because of this movie, but then again, I'm always surprised when kids mimic things they saw in movies and television shows.
There's one feature presentation on this disc, available in "interactive" and choice-free "Captain Gruff's Favorite Movie" (49:42) versions. I can see the appeal in a "Choose-Your-Own Adventure"-style disc, but I'd worry that kids will just get antsy having to press buttons, and it seems like part of the appeal of a DVD for a parent is that they can switch it on and focus on something else rather than being forced to sit there and show the child how the selection process works. However, the interactive version adds another half-hour of content when you make the "wrong" choices (i.e. those that don't progress the story; the scenes loop around back to the same choice so the viewer can choose again), and each branching point is helpfully placed at the chapter stops.
The Secret of Pirate Island gets an embossed slipcover with a sticker on the front hyping a Cici's Pizza coupon included inside, featuring the colorful design of our animated heroes. The case is a white Eco-Box with the same artwork, and inside the case is that coupon, inside a mini booklet promoting other Sony releases and offers, and, of course, the Playmobil catalog.
The Video and Audio
Since the film is digitally animated, I'd guess this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is a direct digital-to-digital transfer. Other than the occasional jagged edge and some possibly-intentional fuzziness, I didn't notice anything wrong with the picture. You also get Dolby Digital 5.1, which is surprisingly active. It's nice to hear the effort in the directional effects and mixing, since this is usually the kind of thing that would get ignored on a kids' release, but it seems like Playmobil and Sony Wonder were pretty invested in the project. French 2.0 audio and English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Technically, there are no "extra features" on this disc other than the two feature presentations and a sing-along version of the weakest song in the movie (1:53), all of which are accessible from the main menu. Another menu with trailers for Sony Wonder Backstage Pass, "The Mr. Man Show", Open Season 2, The Swan Princess and Surf's Up is also accessible from the menu.
I'm pleased to say that not only did I like Playmobil when I was young, but that this DVD doesn't trample all over these memories and make me wish I'd never remembered. I can only judge the DVD itself rather than compare it to other kid's DTV releases, but it was a fine little film. I think if I had kids, I would rent any DVD meant to entertain them the first time through, to determine quality and kid interest, but since this was a well-made DVD and "rent it" would seem like less of an endorsement, I'm assigning it the recommended rating instead.
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