As a child, my older brother would get Lego kits. He would build them as I played with my Duplo sets and as we got older, his Lego sets became disjointed; pieces everywhere, allowing our imagination to soar as we created anything out of the pieces. The latest 3D Lego animated film, The Lego Ninjago Movie, co-directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan reminded me of my childhood.
Featuring an all-star voice cast, Ninjago is the story of a group of six young kids who very desperately want to learn the ways of the Ninja. Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco) is at the very nerve center of the story. His high school chums, Kai (Michael Pena), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Nya (Abbi Jacobson), Zane (Zach Woods) and Cole (Fred Armisen) round out what will eventually become the secret ninja squad to protect the far-away land of Ninjago. Master Wu (Jackie Chan) harbors a secret as he starts training the impatient Lloyd and his friends, while the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) harbors an even deeper secret.
I would normally complain about the number of creative writing staff on an animated film. However, the extremely nuanced story benefits from having so much talent. In the meantime, the very unique way they chose to frame the story effectively conveys the themes of family and trust.
I got a late 1980’s, early 1990’s vibe from the film, and that is part of its problem. It felt like a rehash of The Empire Strikes Back, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, which makes sense given their Asian-influences. I even got a sense of Goonies and Gremlins, playing into the story’s adventuresome strengths. There are no monsters, unless you count the Dr. Evil-like Lord Garmadon and his volcanic lair, which is situated smack dab in front of Ninjago. Or Meowthra. You’ll just have to see the movie to get the full experience.
The animation here is second-to-none. Even in 2D, you feel like you’re in the middle of action. None of the characters stood out, but then again, none of them were boring either. Though the characters seemed flat, the animation drives the action and comedy. The running gag with Lloyd’s first name never got stale, until they stopped doing it, but it works to establish several key character moments.
Pop music tracks are laid throughout the film as well, underscoring the on-screen action. The amount of pop music really rendered Mark Mothersbaugh’s score mute, however, the songs enhanced the emotional overtones, helping to add a layer of emotion that the voices couldn’t necessarily carry.
There is more than enough to allow your imagination to soar, while still enjoying the confines of Ninjago. If you can see the film in 3D, I would recommend it. If not, you’ll enjoy it equally as well, but the animation just screams for the third dimension. The Lego Ninjago Movie has something in it for everyone.