Between The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, its harder to imagine the LEGO brand getting off to a hotter start in film. Both films not only brought ample charm and humor to the screen, but also delivered surprisingly sincere messages to families. This is why it saddens me to report that their latest The LEGO Ninjago Movie vastly pales in comparison to its predecessors.
Adapted from the hit Cartoon Network TV show, Ninjago follows a group of teen misfits who live a double life as ninjas. Their leader Lloyd is the son of Garmadon, the evil force who continues to threaten the peace of Ninjago land. Garmadon must not only defeat evil, but try and find his place in the world.
For those who have seen either of the previous LEGO films, you know what to expect from Ninjago. Plenty of subversive humor is on display as well as a frenetic pace to keep the action moving. For the first time however, Ninjago feels more like its copying the formula of previous films rather than a unique entity.
That’s not to say there is no entertainment value. The animation as usual is stunning, with the directors and dozens of animators crafting a visually alive and colorful film. Some of the subversive gags do land, with a bit involving a live-action cat in particular standing out, but this is clearly missing the pop culture zeitgeist of LEGO Movie or the expanded universe in The LEGO Batman Movie. The film fails the most when it tries to re-create that, with a Good Morning America parody failing to ever draw a chuckle.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie has a refreshing approach in the fact that its not an origin story, but that ends up being in the film’s determent. Despite having a lot of talented comedic voice actors (Zach Woods, Fred Armisen, and Olivia Munn to name a few), every supporting character ends up being relegated to very minimal roles. The audience never gets to know any of the other ninjas besides Lloyd, which makes this ineffective as an ensemble.
While none of the three LEGO movies could be labeled as source of originality in the story department, Ninjago‘s narrative feels rather trite. The film gets off to a fast and furious start, but then takes too many detours into familiar territory. This film’s themes about the difficulty of family dynamics has its heart in the right place, but is haplessly conveyed through routine storytelling.
I credit Warner Brothers for crafting LEGO Movies that didn’t depend on the popularity of their brand, creating amiable flicks that didn’t feel derivative of toy commercials. While The LEGO Ninjago Movie is no where near as cynical as the worst animated movies, its substandard entertainment value and formulaic approach left me disappointed.