If you’ve been asking “how many of these LEGO movies can they make before they drop the ball” well, three. The answer is three.
The first LEGO movie was an absolutely superb marriage of a flawless visual design and surprisingly deep story that is one of those cross-generational films that anyone can enjoy.
The LEGO Batman movie couldn’t live up to that, so it did its own thing, filling in some of the deficit with a lot of comedy, comic book Easter Eggs and well, Batman.
Now we have The LEGO Ninjago Movie which still manages to capture a lot of what made the first two films great, but falls at many hurdles and hobbles into third place.
We don’t know if this was the intention, but The LEGO Ninjago Movie’s biggest flaw is its story that makes it feel like a dumbed down product intended for an extremely young audience.
On the surface the premise is as simple as can be: a group of teenagers are actually ninjas who fight the big bad Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux) and his army of fish-themed minions.
But things get a tad deeper because main character Lloyd (Dave Franco) is actually the son of Garmadon, and Garmadon’s brother is Lloyd’s uncle and ninja sensei Master Wu (Jackie Chan). We have all the pieces for story focused on family, which was a surprise as it touches on the topic of absent fathers.
Unfortunately the way this story is told is so poorly paced and thought out that it feels like a low-effort episode of a cartoon. And not even a regular episode either, one of those filler episodes that goes into the history of one of the main characters.
And, by the end, this movie doesn’t really give you any resolution to what it spends so long setting up, there’s no interesting twists or revelations throughout and it’s all jumbled up and bland.
This is mirrored in the animation too. Now, we’re not going to say it’s bad, because it’s really not. This still looks like a fan-made brickfilm that got millions of dollars of funding (because that’s exactly what it is) and the talented people behind it should be commended, it’s just that it feels like shortcuts were taken.
Water is a great example. In the first LEGO movie the water was animated using a simulation where the entire body was made up of bricks. Here the water isn’t made that way, and it’s just a render that couldn’t theoretically be made with bricks.
This extends to other elements such as smoke, and a mountain range, and a huge bamboo forest where around a third of the movie takes place.
This may seem like a strange flaw to focus on, but this is a massive detractor that takes you out of the movie and removes the fun of soaking in every frame to see how cleverly it was put together.
The cast did a good job here with the average script they were given. The joke delivery is usually on point and Franco was an oddly inspired choice as we would not have pegged him for a voice actor, let alone the main character in an animated film.
We got the most out of Jay, thanks to his voice actor being Kumail Nanjiani of Silicon Valley fame. Hearing his voice in something so family friendly was strange, in a good way.
When you sum this all together The LEGO Ninjago Movie comes out as a simply okay animation. With the Ninjago theme being so popular with both kids and adults, we can see them overlooking most or all of the problems here and enjoying it anyway, which is great, but everyone else will be left wanting.