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Review: The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017)

The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017)

Directed by: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan

Premise: A spinoff of 2014’s The LEGO Movie. A group of teenage warriors defend the island of Ninjago from the evil Warlord Garmadon and his army.

What Works: There is a difference between family films and children’s pictures. The LEGO Ninjago Movie doesn’t offer much for adults but very young viewers will probably find it entertaining. The movie is the feature length equivalent of a Saturday morning cartoon and it is filled with enough action and humor to hold young people’s attention. As a piece of animated action moviemaking, there is some impressive work in The LEGO Ninjago Movie. The action scenes are kinetic and as well choreographed as anything in live action moviemaking.

What Doesn’t: 2014’s The LEGO Movie and 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie transcended their inherent commercialism. At some level those films were feature length toy commercials but they managed to be more than that. The LEGO Ninjago Movie fails in almost every way that the other films succeeded. The original LEGO feature and the Batman spinoff were smart and funny and told stories that sent up familiar storytelling genres. The filmmakers of The LEGO Ninjago Movie try to do that with a martial arts story but it doesn’t work at all. Instead of satirizing the clichés of this genre, the filmmakers work their way through them and rather than subverting Asian stereotypes and Oriental exoticism the movie becomes an example of it. The teenage warriors are led by a martial arts master voiced by Jackie Chan. The character is the stereotypical Asian martial arts master who speaks in vague platitudes and the heroes are put through a rote story of finding the talent within themselves. The LEGO Ninjago Movie is bookended by live action wraparound sequences. It’s a shallow imitation of the reveal at the end of the original LEGO Movie but it’s not effective and it doesn’t bring anything to the story. The attempts at humor in The LEGO Ninjago Movie are lame. The comedy is reminiscent of the animated movies from a decade ago like Shrek 2 and Shark Tale which were crammed full of cultural references that aren’t funny and will be unrecognizable in a few years. Whenever the filmmakers try to be self-aware they are just obnoxious and this movie has none of the energy, charm, or imagination of the previous LEGO films. More than anything, The LEGO Ninjago Movie is missing the earnest good heartedness of the other pictures. Those movies captured the fun and excitement of childhood play, as well as the inventiveness and creativity inherent to the LEGO brand, and the stories had characters who were lovable and interesting. The LEGO Ninjago Movie doesn’t have any of those qualities.

Bottom Line: The LEGO Ninjago Movie will probably distract kids for a couple of hours but it feels like the movies that LEGO previously released directly to DVD. It doesn’t justify the expense and commitment of a trip to the theater.

Episode: #675 (November 19, 2017)