When The Lego Movie hit the scene in 2014, it’s safe to say that nobody expected it to be an animated masterpiece. Likewise, people probably weren’t expecting it to commence a cinematic universe of sorts. Yet, the film not only went above and beyond the call of duty, but also inspired an equally awesome spinoff with The Lego Batman Movie. Less than a year after that superhero satire, we get The Lego Ninjago Movie. In the same vein as its predecessors, this is a fast-paced, heartwarming, and visually inventive animated feature that exceeds expectations. If this franchise has taught us anything, it’s that you should never judge a toy by its packaging, just as you should never judge of a book by its cover.
The film centers on sixteen-year-old Lloyd (Dave Franco), who’s an average high school kid outside of the fact that his father is an evil overlord bent on destroying the city of Ninjago. Justin Theroux steals the film’s best one-liners as Lord Garmadon, who literally fires his employees out of a volcano and cries fire. Overcome with daddy issues, Lloyd decides to protect the city as the Green Ninja, possessing the element of… well, green. He learns under the watchful eye of his wise uncle Master Wu, who of course has the voice of Jackie Chan. There’s also Michael Peña as the Red Ninja, Kumail Nanjiani as the Blue Ninja, Abbi Jacobson as the Gray Ninja, Fred Armisen as the Black Ninja, and Zach Woods as Sub-Zero… er, I mean the Ice Ninja.
The filmmakers do a wonderful job at satirizing everything from old-school martial arts movies to Japanese monster movies. There’s also clearly a bit of Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, and Captain Planet in there, but with a more self-aware tone. They’ve made a film that earns comparison to modern classics like Big Hero 6, Kung Fu Panda, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. At the same time, however, The Lego Ninjago Movie stands out from the pack thanks to its clever sense of humor, meaningful messages, and vibrant landscapes. It’s truly amazing how these animators continually make a world constructed from plastic look so detailed and lively, whether it’s a massive city, a green forest, or a body of water.
As entertaining as The Lego Ninjago Movie is, it doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the previous two Lego films. Part of this has to do with the supporting cast. While everyone puts a lot of effort into performances, Lloyd’s friends aren’t given very distinctive personalities. Actually, it’d be hard to tell them apart if they weren’t all color-coded. To be fair, though, they’re not the focus of the movie. This is a father/son story and the dynamic between Lloyd and Garmadon ranges from hilarious to legitimately touching.
That being said, we’ve seen the father/son story three times from Lego franchise now. The first film was largely built around a son and father trying to relate to one another. The Lego Batman Movie put a strong emphasis on the Dark Knight’s relationship with his adopted boy wonder. While The Lego Ninjago Movie still distinguishes itself from those two films, some of its themes might be a little too familiar. Even when the movie is at its most predictable, though, it never fails to deliver the fun we’ve come to expect from this series.