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The Lego Ninjago Movie Review

The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017) movie poster The Lego Ninjago Movie

Theatrical Release: September 22, 2017 / Running Time: 101 Minutes / Rating: PG

Directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan / Writers: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler (story & screenplay); Hilary Winston, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman (story); Jared Stern, John Whittington (screenplay)

Voice Cast: Jackie Chan (Master Wu, Mr. Liu), Dave Franco (Lloyd Garmadon), Fred Armisen (Cole), Kumail Nanjiani (Jay), Michael Peña (Kai), Abbi Jacobson (Nya), Zach Woods (Zane), David Burrows (Fuchsia Ninja), Alex Kauffman (Ninja Computer), Justin Theroux (Lord Garmadon), Ali Wong (General Olivia), Garret Elkins (Retirement General), Todd Hansen (General Omar), Doug Nicholas (General Jolly), Charlyne Yi (Terri IT Nerd), Vanara Taing (Asimov IT Nerd), Olivia Munn (Koko), Laura Kightlinger (Ms. Laudita), Randall Park (Chen the Cheerleader), Retta (Maggie the Cheerleader), Chris Hardwick (Radio DJ), Bobby Lee (Pilates Studio Owner), Robin Roberts (Robin Roberts), Michael Strahan (Michael Strahan), Constance Wu (Mayor), Kaan Guldur (Kid), Pearl (Meowthra), Ruby (Meowthra)


With the release of The Lego Ninjago Movie, Lego movies are officially a brand to recognize and respect in Hollywood. Now there have been three theatrical released animated films with the words "Lego" and "Movie" in the title and each has offered a clever, unique, and thoroughly entertaining experience. First came The Lego Movie in February 2014,
vastly exceeding expectations for what on paper sounded like a feature-length toy commercial. Then this past February brought The Lego Batman Movie, a comic and inventive adventure applying the same tone to the legend of Gotham's Caped Crusader.

I'll admit Ninjago didn't inspire much hope from me that Warner Animation Group would be able to maintain the same high quality of their two previous features, which have each stood among the best movies of their respective years. And it's true that Ninjago isn't quite as lovable as Lego Batman which itself wasn't quite as brilliant and surprising as the original film. But ragging on Ninjago would be like when I ragged on Ratatouille ten years ago because it wasn't as endearing to me as any of Pixar's first seven films. If we can all agree to pretend that Storks never happened, then Warner Animation could genuinely withstand some premature comparisons to early Pixar, for their first few films (excluding Storks) have boasted similar wit and originality.

If you're not a parent or a child, then you probably don't know that Ninjago is a line of Lego toys and a television series that were both launched in 2011. The show, "Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu", airs on Cartoon Network and is seven seasons and 74 episodes in. This Ninjago movie doesn't expect you to know about any of that or even about the short The Master that ran before Storks and featured a character here. Though the characters have existed for six years, the film introduces them to you as if they're new. It does a pretty impressive job of familiarizing you to a pretty substantial cast of personalities.

The green ninja Lloyd and his fellow Ninjago teens find themselves in the middle of a jungle adventure with his father, Lord Garmadon.

There are six high school students who secretly form the Ninjago team. They each have a color and an element, but our main focus is Lloyd Garmadon (voiced by Dave Franco), the Green Ninja, whose birthday is forgotten by his butt-dialing father Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), the loathed local warlord who hasn't seen him since he was a baby. Lloyd has obvious daddy issues, which eventually come to the foreground when he reveals to the not very observant Garmadon that one of his nemeses is his very own son.

That narrative helps supply the same kind of irreverence that made the previous two Lego movies stand out. It's not quite the full-on existential crisis of The Lego Movie's Emmet or Batman's trauma-induced relationship problems, but it's something real and relatable, giving depth and meaning to what could just be the fancy of a world of interlocking toys. The film credited to six screenwriters, four of whom also share story credit with two of the TV series' writers-executive producers and yet another TV-seasoned writer. Too many cooks are supposed to spoil the broth, but that isn't the case here. Sure, Ninjago has the feel of something that was repeatedly punched up scene by scene.

How could a father-son scene get a bigger laugh? By having Bruce Springsteen's "Secret Garden" flare up and then break down as it becomes clear the anticipated heart-to-heart isn't to be. (I'm counting this as the second straight Lego movie Jerry Maguire reference.) How could the Ninjagos unearthing their power amuse adults whose interest might otherwise be flagging? By incorporating Snap's "I've Got the Power." How to give the Ninjas' Master Wu (Jackie Chan) some humor to complement his sage? By having him play "Welcome to the Jungle" on the flute as he leads the team into the jungle.

A laser pointer is hoped to be the ultimate weapon used to distract Meowthra the cat in "The Lego Ninjago Movie."

Ninjago may not have the precision and
symmetry of Pixar's narratives, but it consistently puts a smile on your face with its humorous new takes on old themes of teamwork, self-discovery, and the like. The narrative avoids making Garmadon an absolute villain, framing him as more of a wealthy buffoon than a threat. It also has fun with the idea of an ordinary housecat functioning as a menace to the Lego universe he towers over, an update on the live-action Will Ferrell material from the first Lego Movie.

Like that film, Ninjago briefly embraces live action, opening and closing with scenes in a shop run by a wise man (played by Jackie Chan), who functions as the storyteller in these bookends.

After three films, the Lego movie playbook is becoming clearer. What was initially so surprising and disarming is now approaching formulaic. That could impact the opinions of those who determine the quality of a film. Eventually, Pixar had to stop making rescue adventures/buddy comedies. Warner might need to stop making wink-nod anything goes comedies, but for now it seems like a pretty good model with ample room for variation. The Lego Movie Sequel is due February 2019 and who is to say we won't get more of these kinds of movies as long as the audience continues to show up?

Lego Ninjago will contribute to the box office decline that Lego Batman experienced from the first Lego Movie. This is an established brand but one that seems quite niche compared to Batman. In fact, after a week, it seems Ninjago will struggle to do much if any better than Storks and clear the bar of commercial success that has increasingly challenged feature animation after years of smooth sailing. The bigger question may be can Warner pick up the Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination it was absurdly denied for the first Lego Movie? And can it do so with the superior film that came out early in the year as opposed to this fall release?

Related Reviews:
Warner Animation Group: The Lego Movie • The Lego Batman Movie • Storks
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Reviewed September 28, 2017.

Text copyright 2017 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2017 Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Animation Group, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, Lego System A/S,
Lin Pictures, and Vertigo Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.