The LEGO Ninjago Movie, 2017.
Directed by Charlie Bean.
Featuring the voice talents of Dave Franco, Michael Pena, Kumail Nanjiani, Fred Armisen, Zach Woods, Abbi Jacobson, Justin Theroux, Olivia Munn, and Jackie Chan.
Ninjago is the story of six young ninja tasked with defending their island home, called Ninjago. By night, they’re gifted warriors, using their skills and awesome fleet of vehicles to fight villains and monsters. By day, they’re ordinary teens struggling against their greatest enemy: high school.
Of recent successes, the emergence, and ultimate maintenance of The LEGO Movie and all that followed is maybe the most surprising. What rightly should have been a shameless cash grab, a lame attempt at stocking toy stores and filling space beneath Christmas trees, turned out to be something far more impressive.
Where both of its predecessors were a joy, The LEGO Ninjago Movie is maybe more slight, aimed squarely at a younger audience with a streak so saccharin, its recommended you bring a bottle mouthwash.
But for all this, there is something unbridled in its irreverency. It opens on live action, where we find a young boy lost in an antique store owned by Mr Liu (Jackie Chan) who spins a yarn of the Ninjago.
Then to LEGO, where we find Lloyd (Dave Franco) shunned by society due to his association to father Garmadon (Justin Theroux), a warlord hell-bent on taking over the city of Ninjago. Thankfully, his friends Cole (Fred Armisen), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (Michael Peña), Nya (Abbi Jacobson) and Zane (Zach Woods) have his back both at school, and as their disguised ninja superheroes.
After Lloyd accidentally releases an enemy far mightier than any they’ve ever fought – a giant cat, actually, just a cat, a live-action cat – the team must journey on a perilous adventure to find a force that can bring harmony back to Ninjago.
Again, the animation is bright and bold, but lacks the stern visual certainty of The LEGO Movie, with action sequences often getting lost amidst explosions and convoluted battles. The line between live action and animation too is blurred with the addition of LEGO-less fire and water. But there’s enough wear and tear to the animated figures to charm, with fingerprints and scratches adorning each brick.
But really, the films have always been far more about irreverency and jokes than that of high calibre animation – even if they do visually please – and Ninjago follows suit. Credited to 11 writers, it’s almost a “too many cooks situation,” but with sheer calibre of jokes, a handful are always like to go amiss.
It’s the sickly saccharin undercurrent that lets the film down. There’s such focus on relationships and lessons learnt that it only ever exists as something ultimately cloying, a lesson in parenting for those too lazy to actually parent.
Even the framing, a Princess Bride-lite reading of a story, adds only further layers of sickly candyfloss.
Yet, for it’s flaws, there’s enough charm to carry it far above the pained idiocy of the Despicable Me’s and Boss Baby’s that pollute animated cinema.
Where it’s predecessors both had surprise and momentum to build on, Ninjago finds, and momentarily struggles building on a mythos yet developed. The LEGO Ninjago Movie may cloy in buckets, but it’s irreverency continues LEGO’s unexpected success on the silver screen.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★