The problem with The Lego Ninjago Movie is that it does not have the longevity of Lego Batman, nor the originality of the Lego Movie. As a toy, Ninjago is quite popular, and even has an area of tumblr dedicated to the animated series, but a mainstream movie audience would have little idea what Ninjago actually is and the film does a rather poor job of explaining. Yet insults to the world of Ninjago aside, The Lego Ninjago Movie is an odd and not quite successful entry into The Lego Movie franchise.
Filmmakers Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan chose to stick with the idea of a story within a story, as seen in the original Lego Movie, drawing on the star persona of Jackie Chan to lend the film some mysticism and weight. A young boy wanders into a shop filled with non-specific Asian antiques and is entertained by its owner Mr Liu (Chan) with the legend of Ninjago. This legend concerns a teenager named Lloyd (Dave Franco) who is part of a ‘secret ninja force’ that protects the city of Ninjago from an evil warlord named Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Oh, and Lloyd is Garmadon’s son. But his father has no clue that Lloyd leads the ninjas who defeat him on an almost daily basis. This part of the plot follows a rather traditional good versus evil formula, but it is frequently undercut in favour of a plot line about father and son reunited. Which is then again played for as many laughs as the filmmakers can coax from their audience.
It was definitely a strong choice by the team behind the Lego films to imitate a stop-motion aesthetic and stay true to the physical appearance of Lego bricks. This decision contributes immensely to the reception of these films as the bricks are such an iconic image. We believe that these elaborate set pieces could be recreated by children with their own Lego sets. The world of Ninjago has a similar feel to San Fransokyo in Disney’s Big Hero 6, where it manages to combine Western architecture with Eastern Architecture quite seamlessly.
A big issue with the film is the conflict between the serious, high stakes plot and the comedic tone. The Lego Ninjago Movie cannot take itself seriously long enough to allow any of the scenes between Garmadon and Lloyd— or Wu and the ninjas— their emotional weight. It has to move swiftly onto the next visual gag because God forbid we treat Ninjago as something serious. Garmadon, for better or for worse, is incapable of taking anything seriously and while that is probably for the best given the intended audience, it does feel jarring given his place as the films central villain. In addition it undermines any emotional catharsis we may gain from the changes in Lloyd and Garmadon’s relationship.
The Lego Ninjago Movie is not entirely a waste, it is a fun ride for children. While it draws on the brand Lego has established in its initial outings, with a closer look and one will see that it somehow manages to both alienate the fans of the franchise and fail to inspire newcomers to join the fan-base. Previous knowledge of Lego Ninjago is somehow both useful and makes the film rather frustrating. If the purpose of this film is to raise the awareness and popularity of the franchise, then it failed spectacularly. But if it was an experiment to see what Phil Lord and Chris Miller could potentially do with a pre-existing Lego theme, there are worse entries into this particular hall of infamy.
The Lego Ninjago Movie is now available to stream on Netflix UK
by Mia Garfield
Mia Garfield is a London based writer, director, and freelance production assistant. Over the last year she’s amassed credits on feature films such as Fast and Furious 9, Infinite, and Venom 2. She is a big lover of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Mythology but her taste is incredibly varied. Today her favourite films include Howl’s Moving Castle, Romeo + Juliet, and Inception. You can find her talking about books on twitter at @MiaGwrites or @Mia_Julianna on Letterboxd.