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A Review of The Lego Ninjago Movie

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"Neither faction wants to see their plans foiled by this killer kitty." Image source: Warnerbros.com

"Neither faction wants to see their plans foiled by this killer kitty." Image source: Warnerbros.com

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You may have heard of a family flick called The Lego Movie. The first installment seemed to many like a cash-in on the iconic toys we know and love.

Surprisingly, the film innovated in animation and storytelling, included biblical references and dealt with serious questions about fate and free will.

Its successor, The Lego Batman Movie, only raised that bar, though it was a bit more shallow in some respects. However, skepticism rose when the next Lego movie was… The Lego Ninjago Movie?

Yes, based on one of The Lego Group’s one-off toy lines, this family flick looks like an awful power rangers rip-off from the outside, and it…. kind of is? Yet it also kind of isn’t.

The movie takes place in “Ninjago City,” which is constantly under threat by melodramatic, volcano-dwelling supervillain Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux).

His son, Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco), lives in the city and is not accepted in society as his dad is a terrorist who acts like it’s D-Day every day and Ninjago City is Normandy. By day, Lloyd is a loser, but by night, he is…. asleep.

This film is a mixed bag. Some of its DNA comes from its ground-breaking predecessors, while other strands are what people thought The LEGO Movie was going to be: a lazy, by-the-book cash-in. ”

But when his father attacks, Lloyd transforms from loser to the Green Ninja.

As the Green Ninja, Lloyd is a beloved celebrity, as his true identity is a secret. He also works with a team of elementally-themed ninjas. Who are these ninjas? It doesn’t matter, as they are extremely underdeveloped. When these flat four do get their own screen time, they’re outright obnoxious.

The inciting incident occurs when Garmadon launches a successful attack on the city, and Lloyd makes a mistake that only causes further destruction of the unfortunate urban landscape. He unleashes a giant cat (and I mean an actual cat, not some lego cat here) that inadvertently helps Garmadon, but is much more of a wildcard than anything else.

Neither faction wants to see their plans foiled by this killer kitty. Thus Lloyd, his dad and the distasteful tetrad of other ninjas must embark on a journey to defeat the evil that has been unleashed.

Without getting into spoilers, the story isn’t bad, in the same way a can of soda gone flat isn’t bad. It lacks texture, really. The father-son storyline is convincing and heartwarming, but it’s not enough to make this film exceptional.

This is especially true since the strengths of previous lego movies are missing. This film has no characters building to solve problems, no commentary on our society, no satire of cultural icons and no depiction of cosmic irony.

Without getting into spoilers, the story isn’t bad, in the same way a can of soda gone flat isn’t bad. It lacks texture, really.”

Lighting, sound and animation are not as unique as they were in the previous films. The sound engineers of the previous films attempted to replicate sounds from the mouth, as if a child was making them as he played with his LEGOs, reinforcing the idea that larger forces are in control of the characters’ destiny.

The LEGO animation of the past followed the restrictions of the minifigure in order to simulate stop-motion, and liberties to this rule were taken rarely. In this film, it feels like the animators forgot this for the most part, making character movements more generic than before.

Lighting is more natural in Ninjago, but LEGO movie lighting was never natural. It always simulated lighting as if in a room, shining down on an elaborate set. This whole film looks more like a cable TV show and less like watching toys come alive.

Actually, there is a TV show about these brightly-colored LEGO ninjas, and that went on way too long. Coincidentally, they also turned themselves into tornadoes to fight enemies in the show. Lego Group executives seem to have realized: “They would make great beyblades!” and designed molds for just that. If you’re curious, it’s worth a Google.

All of these changes detract from the development of the idea from the previous films that the characters (and by extension, the audience) are just toys in a basement, subject to the whims of a child.

This film is a mixed bag. Some of its DNA comes from its ground-breaking predecessors, while other strands are what people thought The LEGO Movie was going to be: a lazy, by-the-book cash-in.

I sure hope Warner Brothers re-orient their goals with these movies. From me, it gets a 59/100. If you do plan on seeing this film, bring some naive children as to not feel self-conscious about watching a film with the word “Ninjago” in it. I hate to say it, but I learned that the hard way.

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A Review of The Lego Ninjago Movie