Sunday, April 21, 2024

‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’ Is More Commercial Than Story

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The Lego Ninjago Movie is the third in the Lego series. This installment is based off the popular kids television show Ninjago. In a rare move, the original television voice cast has been replaced with big name actors.

While I’m not an expert on the fealty children have to the voice actors of their beloved television show, I would imagine it hovers close to non-existent. I understand to some degree the logic of the thinking by the higher ups. Why use television actors for movies? Why not get big names to attract people who don’t watch the show?

The bigger question is: What is the point of of arguing the artistic moral obligations of a franchises literally designed to sell toys? Well, keeping in mind the Lego franchise is hardly alone in this type of artistic product marketing, probably not much. 

Except with the first two Lego movies they had value. They had a story and characters that made you care about them and their destiny. Yes they were product placement taken to the extremes of Transformers, but they still managed to entertain and move us.

The Lego Ninjago Movie is the first in the series that feels like a commercial. A commercial  you have to pay between sixteen and twenty dollars for. There’s a stunning lack of creativity from the directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan.

The previous Lego movies played with the notion of Legos. There were wonderful little sequences where characters would build things into wonderful and surreal objects utilizing the materials and their own imagination. Sadly, very few of those sequences  are in this one. 

The plot is simple: Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) attacks Ninjago almost daily. His estranged son Lloyd (Dave Franco) is a massively unpopular high schooler based on the fact his father tries to destroy the city literally every day. So, Lloyd and his friends lead separate lives as the Secret Ninjas who fight off Garmadon causing as much, possibly even more, damage than the over lord.

His friends Cole (Fred Armisen), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (Michael Pena), Zane (Zack Woods), and Nya (Abbi Jacobson) are trained by Lloyd’s uncle and Ninja master Master Wu (Jackie Chan). They each have an elemental power that befits their personalities but since they have no personalities it’s impossible for me to tell you which is which. Lloyd’s is ‘green’.

I remember because it’s somewhat of a plot point. We follow Lloyd as he tries to connect with his father and help his friends, and himself, become better warriors. With nine writers you would think there would be more or what there is would be choice.

The Lego Ninjago Movie is boring on a scale that’s death to a kids movie. It feels more like a combination of television episodes mixed with youtube sketches. The mob of writers made a baffling decision to bookend the story with live action segments. They feature Jackie Chan as Mr. Liu telling a Kid (Kaan Guldur) the story of Ninjago. These scenes add nothing to the story but run time. 

There are some laughs. Mr. Liu’s antagonistic relationship with his cat had me giggling even after the movie. Cat owners and lovers will understand the relationship on a deep spiritual level. Jackie Chan is a legend. Whether it’s his voice or his stunt skills, his presence never fails to add a much needed breath of fresh air.

You never get the feeling with Jackie that anything he is doing is ‘just for a paycheck’. Yet, the script is so weak, his Master Wu/Mr. Liu so thin that he has precious little to work with or salvage. Jackie is a sight for sore eyes, but we wish he didn’t have to suffer along with us. 

There’s very little to recommend about The Lego Ninjago Movie. I’m aware that I’m not part of the target audience or even part of the target generation. That being said, the kids deserve better. If I can offer the parents any consolation if they do find themselves buying tickets it’s this: it is mercifully short.

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

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