The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017)

If The LEGO Ninjago Movie can’t quite live up to the standards set by the first two theatrical LEGO movies, that probably has more to do with how high of a bar had been established by both of those. The LEGO Movie came out of nowhere to be one of the best films of its year, and earlier this year The LEGO Batman Movie gave us the most enjoyable Batman movie in almost a decade. So when LEGO Ninjago is just “okay,” take that to mean that it’s still good, but set your expectations accordingly.

Part of the problem starts right off the bat. These movies don’t need much framing, but LEGO Ninjago starts off in live-action and frames the LEGO story as a tale being recited to a child by an elderly man. The LEGO story follows Lloyd (Dave Franco), a high school student who (1) is the child of an evil warlord, Garmadon (Justin Theroux), and is despised at school for it and (2) is part of the Secret Ninja Force, a Power Rangers-esque team that fights off Garmadon whenever he tries to attack the city.

The plot doesn’t end there; a catastrophic event midway through the movie that changes things up. For a while, LEGO Ninjago becomes an adventure movie. But at its core is a story about a teenager and his absentee father. That’s what the movie wants to be about. And … it’s kind of successful. The father-son stuff works the best; the play between the two characters is fun and the reconciliations—as brief as they may last—are sweet.

There are a couple of reasons why it isn’t a complete success. The first stems from thematic overlap with the last movie. LEGO Batman was all about how important it is to have family. This time out, we’ve narrowed it down to a father-son dynamic. It’s the same idea, but less universally applicable. It feels repetitive and not as strong. The other reason is that it’s not all LEGO Ninjago tries to do. It also wants to throw in a tired “believe in yourself” mantra that falls almost completely flat and just takes away time and energy from what the movie really wants to be about.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie is a perfectly fine animated movie—better than most, as a matter of fact.

LEGO Ninjago also isn’t as funny as its predecessors. There are a bunch of jokes, it’s true, and many of them are good, but it’s just not going to make you laugh as much. Maybe the premise is wearing thin, or maybe this is just an anomaly, but it just wasn’t as funny. The visual humor is where it really falters. The “…but it’s LEGO now” type of humor just didn’t work very well, and about the only big laugh from something we see is a welcome surprise that one of the trailers really shouldn’t have ruined. The dialogue gets most of the laughs.

Most of this review has sounded negative, and that’s just because of how much fun the first two LEGO outings were. LEGO Ninjago is still a mostly fun, moderately funny experience with at least one decently successful theme to its name. It’s by no means bad. And some of the action scenes might be the best of the franchise thus far—they’re not as jokey as they were in the past, which gives them a bit more weight. It’ll just leave those hoping for a trifecta of awesomeness a little disappointed.

None of the blame should be given to Dave Franco or Justin Theroux, both of whom give great vocal performances as Lloyd and Garmadon. The voice-over work, on the whole, is solid, but those two deserve standout mention. Jackie Chan, Michael Peña, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, and Fred Armisen all have relatively big roles, too. It would’ve been nice for the rest of the Secret Ninja Force to get anything resembling character arcs, which would’ve given their voice actors more with which to work.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie is a perfectly fine animated movie—better than most, as a matter of fact. It compares unfavorably to the previous two LEGO movies, although that’s almost a little unfair. It has some laughs, some decent action, and a point, it just feels lesser in all of these aspects when compared to its predecessors. Still, it has strong vocal performances, it’s a good time at the movie theater, and if you’re being dragged by children, at least you’ll have a decent time. That’s often not the case.

Conclusion: The LEGO Ninjago Movie is a good animated movie that can’t live up to the expectations set by its predecessors.

Recommendation: If you aren’t tired of the LEGO movies, check out The LEGO Ninjago Movie.

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