When I was a kid, children’s entertainment was simply something to be endured or ignored by adults. But now that the most immature, nostalgic generation so far — mine — is in our prime kid-having and entertainment-creating years, we are in a golden age of kids’ shows that pander to parents, with amusing asides and winking, self-referential jokes thrown in for the benefit of our well-documented state of arrested development. And to that I say “Thanks!” Hey, I carried a metal lunchbox as a purse in high school. They aren’t wrong about me.
“The Lego Movie” was immensely clever and funny, and the 2014 film’s entire premise was predicated on the fact that the characters in it were actual Lego toys, sort of like “Toy Story” in that there were also humans playing with the Legos. This film, the third, is really just an adventure animated by Lego characters, and it only plays with that dynamic when the ninjas accidentally summon a giant cat with a laser pointer, and the cat proceeds to knock over the Lego town of Ninjago. This was, in my mind, the funniest part.
I attended the opening weekend of “The Lego Ninjago Movie” with a row full of small children and one medium child. In their minds, the parts with the word “butt” were the funniest. Not since the “Sex and the City Movie” has a television show made the move to the big screen to a more enthusiastic audience. As each character made their first appearance onscreen, all seven children whispered that character’s name reverently. “Master Wuuuuu!” they exclaimed in satisfied unison.
All the favorites from the popular TV show are there, in this tale of a group of secret ninjas who are also high school students, under the tutelage of the aforementioned Master Wu, united against a relentless foe, Garbadon, who also happens to be one of the ninjas’ dad. Lloyd, the Green ninja, endures the derision of the whole town of Ninjago because of his father, and no one knows he is also one of the ninjas trying to save the city. Of course, the story finds father and son working through their issues amid great hilarity.
Like many adaptations, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” grapples with striking a balance between new material and fan service. It’s kind of an origin story in that it finds some of the characters behind in development from where they are in the show or, as an exasperated Lucas, age 6, quite rightly asked, “When are they gonna use spinjitzu?!?” He did not add “fer chrissakes!,” but it was implied in his tone.
So, hitting all the expected beats from the source material worked for most of the audience, but Karsten, a thoughtful second grader who pointed out that it was too much like an episode of the TV show, and didn’t really bring enough that was new or unexpected. I think the word of the day is “derivative.” But also “ninja.”
For me, there weren’t enough Lego-specific gags, and it sort of wasted the premise of the characters being Legos. But to point out the film’s downfalls is to underestimate the appeal of the presence of ninjas. As Lola pointed out, “I liked this movie better than the first movie because it had ninjas and stuff.” I would point out that even the characters complain they haven’t learned enough ninja stuff yet (see: spinjitzu) and that they rely mostly on spectacular weaponry instead of ninja skills, but then I realized you had them at “spectacular weaponry.”
To further explain, I attempted to “interview” my five-year-old son to get his opinion on the film, but he responded in a series of explosion sound effects, which I have translated to “Perhaps the script didn’t achieve the wry level of meta-awareness of the original Lego movie, which deftly wove the very nature of Legos themselves into a clever and supremely entertaining romp that pleased both kids and adults, but this Lego movie appealed to me on a much more visceral level, because of all the explosions.” I asked him to describe the film in one word, and he said “the dragon.” So, while clueless adults will notice that this is the least amusing Lego movie yet, wise small children will note the presence of ninjas, some riding dragons, and enter a state of cinematic bliss.
“The Lego Ninjago Movie” is currently playing.