After The Lego Movie showed us that everything was awesome about the little toys in films, and then Lego Batman Movie continued the fun with riffs on the comic book and film history of the character, Warner Animation decided to bring an original Lego property to the movie world. Lego Ninjago already has a TV series, but this new film has nothing to do with that story. Instead we have a kind-of-spin-off from Lego Movie, with the same style and tone, and childish imagination infused into the events.
The film starts in the real world, with a young boy venturing into an old relic shop. In there he meets Mr Liu (Jackie Chan) who, to cheer the boy up, begins to tell him the legend of the legend of Ninjago. As the film shifts to a Lego world, we find Ninjago is a city that keeps getting attacked by the evil Lord Garmadon. Garmadon’s estranged son, Lloyd, finds himself feared and hated by pretty much everyone in Ninjago due to the actions of his father. However, Lloyd is also one of the Secret Ninja Force who protect the city from Garmadon. Wanting to prove himself to the city, and to his father, Lloyd sets in motion events that instead threaten to destroy everything.
Three films in and the formula for the Lego movies is well established, and this film overall feels predictable from the outset. However, that doesn’t really matter so long as the film is fun, and in general the Ninjago movie succeeds on that front. Whether it is the jokey excess of the Ninjago toy lines being exploited (how many missiles?), or the genuinely laugh-out-loud reveal of ‘The Ultimate Weapon’ (which, sadly, recent trailers have kind of spoiled the surprise of), the film is as madcap and chaotic as you would expect. The voice cast, including Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Olivia Munn, Michael Pena and (of course) Jackie Chan all deliver well, with the style of animation we’ve come to expect from the studio working well, and looking genuinely stunning at times.
However, the overall feel is one of diminishing returns. Familiarity can breed contempt, and whilst I wouldn’t stretch that far just yet, the fact that a lot of the jokes seem to be variations on those seen in the previous two films doesn’t help. The Lego film franchise needs to be smarter, and come up with something a little different next time around. The unfamiliarity with the Ninjago brand also doesn’t help. Everyone knows Batman, so any jokes in that film paid off. But here, you have to be a fan of a sub-branch of the Lego brand to catch a fair few of the jibes.
Entertaining enough for a bit of family friendly animated entertainment, and certainly a damn sight better than other franchise animations this year (Despicable Me 3 and Cars 3….ugh!). But not one to demand rewatching.