Just because ‘The LEGO Ninjago Movie’ looks like a legit ‘LEGO’ movie, does not mean it is spotless. (Or without its buffs and scratches.) While the style is an improvement over this year’s ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ (which felt more of an animated spoof than an actual movie in the ‘LEGO’ franchise.) to the point where it is equal to ‘The LEGO Movie’ itself, its humor and story line are a result of trying too hard to stand alone as an action comedy for family audiences. You could say that the ‘LEGO’ train has run out of steam and should stop there, (It could go until ‘LEGO Star Wars’, or ‘LEGO Indiana Jones’.) while I believe ‘Ninjago’ suffers from a disease I call “Same Year Syndrome”; this happens when two movies from the same animation studio get released the same year, only months apart, and only results when one or more films end up not living up to their potential. Pixar started suffering with the 2015 release of ‘The Good Dinosaur’, months after ‘Inside Out’, and may continue this year with ‘Coco’ (If it is not good); Last year, Illumination Studios released both ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ and ‘Sing!’, now ‘LEGO’ may be suffering the same fate. It is a shame, because I expected ‘Ninjago’ to be as funny as it was marketed to be.
When ‘The LEGO Movie’ first came out, audiences were on the fence, but ended up getting one of the best animated movies as well as one of the funniest comedies ever made; I now consider it to be one of my favorite comedy films, and appreciate it with every viewing. It became a critical and financial success, leading to ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ starring Will Arnett’s gruff and egotistical portrayal of the mini caped crusader. Almost everyone loved it. While it felt to be too much of a good thing, its heart and emotional story overcame its excessive ‘Airplane’-style joke-a-minute. (I do love ‘Airplane!’ though). Here we are with ‘LEGO’s third attempt at a possible franchise of comedies; ‘The LEGO Ninjago Movie’!
Like ‘LEGO Batman’, ‘Ninjago’ wants to flesh out more of its merchandising in a city that was never explored in ‘The LEGO Movie’ (or: if you want to be more cynical: Sell more toys!), as well as introduce the characters from the sets as comedy stars for children to enjoy; only, the theater I was in showed little enjoyment for this part of the ‘LEGO’ universe! Maybe we truly are getting too much of a good thing, but, you know, things could be worse. We do have ‘The Emoji Movie’ to remind us of what our engrossment in consumerism has led to. Thank heavens, ‘Ninjago’ has not taken that path! It – at least – tries to be a fun and entertaining adventure with heart and likable characters, only to end up self superficial; relying mostly on looks and not what is under the surface. (I even saw a scene that, you could tell, was made for 3D.)
‘Ninjago’ tries to be everything for audiences; a ninja movie; a parody of Kaiju monster movies; a father-and-son adventure, etc. Any element you can think of, ‘Ninjago’ thinks it has it all, but becomes a mess of bricks lying around in a children’s playroom. Under that pile concerns a story surrounding several high school students (Voices of Dave Franco, Fred Armisen, Michael Pena, Zach Woods, Abbi Jacobson, and Kumail Nanjiani), who are secretly a team of ninjas, trained by Master Wu (Voice of Jackie Chan) to stop the six-armed tyrant, Garmadon (Voice of Justin Theroux, having the most fun out of anyone.) and his army of evil ninjas from conquering Ninjago. Every day is the same routine; Garmadon attacks, the ninjas rise up like Power Rangers (Animal mech-bots and all), the city is saved! Hooray! The only problem? Lloyd (Voice of Franco) is Garmadon’s son! Not only is he shunned by the other students in school because of it, but he has never had a father figure in his life; instead having been raised by his mother, Koko. (Voice of Olivia Munn) Lloyd does get a chance to confront Garmadon, only to cause the city to be destroyed by something more powerful than both father and son. (In case you have not already seen the trailer, I will not say!) This causes them to reluctantly work together to save the city, and maybe, even bond.
Thinking about the plot of ‘Ninjago’, I realized that all three movies had the same character formula of a social outcast having to work with a comedic villain to solve a problem. ‘The LEGO Movie’ had Emmett and Lord Business; ‘LEGO Batman’ had Batman and The Joker; and ‘Ninjago’ has Lloyd and Garmadon. What made the characters in the previous film work were the appeal of their heroes and the comedic energy of their villains. ‘Ninjago’ has a fun villain, but no charming hero. Lloyd is meant to be a sympathetic character, given his plight, but he is never really interesting. He is given more of Batman’s demeanor, and less of Emmett’s charm. Was I touched by ‘Ninjago’s story? A little. Did I enjoy the jokes? Maybe even a little. Do I need any more ‘LEGO’ movies? Let’s just say that this franchise has apparently run out of bricks.