The Lego Ninjago Movie Review
The newest installment in the Lego Movie franchise has arrived, the same year as its second installment: The Lego Batman Movie. Does it continue the fantastic trend or do these ninja’s shurikens miss the mark?
The Lego Ninjago Movie was directed by Charlie Sean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan and stars Dave Franco (Lloyd Garmadon), Justin Theroux (Lord Garmadon), Fred Armison (Cole), Michael Peña (Kai), Abbi Jacobsen (Nya), Olivia Munn (Koko), Kumail Nanjiani (Jay), Zach Woods (Zane) and Jackie Chan (Master Wu).
This is the story of Lloyd Garmadon, son of the most evil dad in the world, Lord Garmadon, who constantly tries to conquer Ninjago City. Lloyd, alongside his 5 friends: Zane, Kai, Nya, Cole and Jay, are secretly Ninja heroes who stop Garmadon’s schemes whenever the city is in danger. When Garmadon finally devises a plan that gains him victory, the ninja need to seek out the ULTIMATE ULTIMATE WEAPON to stop him, as well as Meowthra, the real life cat destroying their city.
I’d like to start off my review by saying that I am a huge fan of the Ninjago series on Cartoon Network and have been following it since day one. I am also a huge fan of the Lego sets. I will try my best to avoid biased opinions but I will inevitably make comparisons to the original series in this review. That being said, I was open to change and still am accepting of new material based off a beloved property.
The Lego Movie was such a surprise to everyone and has become one of my favorite animated movies of all time. The Lego Batman Movie was not as good but was still immensely fun and a great movie overall. I had very high hopes for this new installment and, admittedly, I was a bit disappointed with the end product. That being said, my disappointment comes from the film having a lot to live up to, and I did enjoy this movie very much. Some jokes fell flat but just as many had me cracking up in my seat (The Element of Surprise!!).
One thing I found pretty cute was opening the movie with a live action scene. A little boy walks into Jackie Chan’s store and is told the story of Lloyd the ninja. I can see people disliking it but I thought it was quite charming and sort of validated a retelling of the original story. It’s just someone else’s interpretation, right?
The action in this movie was very impressive and so much fun to watch. One of my favorite scenes was a fight between Wu and Garmadon on a bridge, which showed off some very fun and cool fighting action.
The animation is just as top notch as it’s predecessors, and utilizes another unique style to the previous films. The Lego Movie used a stop motion style that kept the figures in the confines of what a real lego can do (only move arms up and down, etc.) as well as using all Lego for everything down to fire and smoke, besides the real world items (lollipop, Kragle, etc.). The Lego Batman movie went a similar route, but did not confine the figures to the limits of a real toy. It instead allowed the figures to move their arms and legs in more articulated motions. This movie used the same character movements as Lego Batman, and Ninjago City was all lego (besides the water, which was real). The jungle scenes, however, used a style that looked like hobby shop miniature models, realistic trees and dirt and the like. It really made for some gorgeous visuals and a very cool combination of environments.
The biggest standouts of the movie were Lloyd and his father, Garmadon. That may be because the other ninja had very little significance in the movie besides a recurring presence and none of Garmadon’s minions really had any character traits worth remembering. I would say that if the character is somehow related to Garmadon, they’re a big part of the movie. Lloyd is every kid’s dream: a high schooler who’s also a super cool ninja. However, he’s also pretty much hated in school by all his peers since he’s known as the son of the worst guy ever, and he’s also having a pretty tough time at home since his mom is struggling to support the family all by herself. And that becomes the big theme of the movie: family issues. Take out the ninja stuff and the villainous dad and you’ve got a movie about a dad who left his family and a son who grew up longing for a loving dad and struggling with the fact that he isn’t there for him. As you watch the film, more backstory is revealed for why that is, and it’s probably the best part of the movie, in my opinion. This leads to my first comparison to the source material: Garmadon’s origin. In this, there is no origin. He’s evil because… he is. In the show, Garmadon was a normal boy until he was bitten by an evil snake, making evil literally course through his veins and corrupt him. This explains why his family is otherwise normal and why he has such a strange appearance. The whole four arms thing is another whole story but this movie explains that more as a joke. Lloyds mom, Misako (or “Koko” as they say in the film), was so cute and so loving. I just adored every minute of her on screen. She’s such a great mother and just does everything she can to support her son.
I think one of my biggest issues with this movie was the time period it took place in. The ninja are already ninja, but they’re far from experts, and yet Master Wu isn’t training them anymore? In the show, Wu was always teaching them new things and when he wasn’t, he was hanging around as part of their little family. He’s certainly a presence in their lives, but we are lead to believe they handle things on their own nowadays. I just find it so strange to throw us into this world somewhere in the middle. Why not do an origin story? This movie really has no ties to the show, so it’s not like the origin was done already. If you use the show as an origin, you’d be incredibly confused watching this movie! An origin story would have been the perfect way to give every ninja equal screen time, and a great way to validate sequels. There are some moments in the movie where the ninja make personal comments that mean nothing to the movie and go nowhere, but are relevant topics in the show. Some examples are Jay’s interest in Nya, Zane being a robot, and the whole concept of elemental powers. The Zane thing in particular I expect to be VERY jarring to newcomers. Zane probably has the least to do in the movie, and is clearly a robot, but it is never addressed or explained. It doesn’t need to be, since it’s not part of the plot, but why even make him a robot then? Yes, he is a robot in the show, but that wasn’t even revealed until mid season 1. He also wasn’t an obvious robot until season 3. The movie changed so much of the original material, why not just change that? Sure he looks cool and robots are fun for kids but if it’s not going to be explained, it just ends up weird and jarring.
Another issue I have was the maturity of the movie. The last two movies had a perfect blend of kid’s humor as well as plenty of laughs and pop culture references for the older fans to enjoy. This movie really only catered to children, chock full of butt jokes and emojis and all that stuff. Oh and there’s this… thing… that happens when the ultimate weapon is mentioned. It’s… horrific. Be ready for something quite disturbing. To me, a movie people say is “fun for the kids” is just an excuse for a bad movie. Children are so easily entertained that a bad movie can still be enjoyable to them. I grew up watching movies like Toy Story, The Incredibles, and other kid friendly movies that had incredible writing and themes which I credit for making me the film fan I am today. All that said, this is certainly not mindless garbage like Minions, it’s just not as well done as something like Toy Story or The Lego Movie.
Another minor issue I have was how disconnected it was from the fanbase. I can’t consider this a flaw since it’s not necessary in making a good movie, but I need to point it out as a fan of the original material. To me, throwing in small references are basically a thank you to fans for staying with them this far. When The Lego Movie flashes the Bionicle logo for half a second, I smiled and felt assured that the creators were fans of Lego’s themselves. With this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the creators didn’t even watch a single episode of the show, or speak with a single crewmember. It’s even more upsetting when you see how many fun nods the Lego sets make to the original material. Small things that those out of the loop would miss, but means so much to those who get it. It’s just a missed opportunity that just made me feel like this movie didn’t deserve to use the same name as its predecessor.
Overall, I didn’t enjoy this movie as much as I wanted to, but I did enjoy it all the same. It’s fun, the action is great, the voice acting is great, and the animation is fantastic. This isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s definitely not a flop. It may not be as good as the last two movies, but it’s still good enough to be a part of your Lego movie collection. If you are going to show a kid any movie that is fairly “check your brain at the door,” this is a great choice.