Review: The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017)

The Lego Ninjago Movie

Rating

Director

Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan

Screenplay

Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, John Whittington, Hilary Winston, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman

Length

1h 41m

Starring

Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Fred Armisen, Kumail Ninjiani, Michael Pena, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Justin Theroux, Olivia Munn, Kaan Guldur

MPAA Rating

PG for some mild action and rude humor

Original Preview

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Buy on DVD/Blu-ray

Soundtrack

Poster

Source Material

Review

With the original Lego Movie, Warner Bros. Animation had its first major success in more than a decade and established itself as more of a power player in the extremely competitive computer animated feature marketplace. With The Lego Batman Movie, the studio built on that success. In its third Lego franchise film, Warner Bros. has hit a bit of a snag.

The Lego Ninjago Movie is based on a product line and TV series about a team of six elemental ninjas who must work together to defeat evil. In the big screen version, they take on Garmadon (voiced by The Leftovers star Justin Theroux), a ruthless plotter attempting to take over Ninjago City and turn it into his own personal playground. The ninjas have typically stopped him, but now they must embark on a journey across various environments to retrieve the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon that will finally stop him once and for all.

At the core of the film’s narrative is both a story about finding one’s place in a world where you’re despised for characteristics that aren’t in your control and about bridging the divide between father and son when selfishness and ego get in the way. Dave Franco plays Lloyd, the Green Ninja whose element remains a loosely-guarded secret until the film’s third act. Voiced by Dave Franco, Lloyd keeps his identity a secret while enduring taunts and threats from classmates who blame him for the perpetual plague on the city that his father has become.

His hatred for his father and how he was abandoned when he was a child endangers the city itself and creates fractures between himself and his fellow ninjas, fire ninja Kai (Michael Pena), ice ninja Zane (Zach Woods), earth ninja Cole (Fred Armisen), lightning ninja Jay (Kumail Ninjiani), and water ninja Nya (Abbi Jacobson). His only defender are his mother Koko (Olivia Munn) and Master Wu (voiced by Jackie Chan), the leader of the ninja defenders.

While much of the humor here is juvenile and the frustrating real-world elements that plagued the original Lego movie are employed here as well, it is, for the most part, an entertaining journey. A number of actors not particularly well known for their vocal work, take on the sextet and their cohorts. The most familiar name in the cast is Chan who plays their Master Wu. His vocal work is stronger than his in-person acting, which he gets to do as a book-end to the story. That story is set up interestingly enough, but that everything about it and what follows is intensely predictable.

One of the biggest faults in animation is large writing rooms designed to inject as many laughs, in-jokes, and pop references as possible. While Pixar managed to make this work, few other studios have managed it and here, the issues are evident. Between screenwriting and story credits, there are ten individuals cited. That may help explain why everything feels like one winking joke is tied into the next with little regard for the simplistic narrative they are built into. It’s the kind of writing that has caused more than a couple of Ice Ages to wither.

Making matters worse is the trio of directors who are responsible for shepherding the whole affair to the screen. Pixar, in this regard, knows how to handle that. Seldom do they employ more than a single director, enabling the film to share a single unique vision rather than permit competing viewpoints to engender creative problems. Even the best team of directors in the world working together will create an end-product that isn’t uneven, especially when compared to that of a single director.

In the end, fans of Lego are the films intended target and while AFOL’s (Adult Fans of Lego) aren’t likely to be terribly enamored with the film as a whole, kids are sure to enjoy it.

Oscar Prospects

Unlikelies: Animated Feature, Original Song

Review Written

October 12, 2017

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