Grade: B-
2017, 101 min., Color
Animation
Warner Bros.
Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Aspect ratio: 2.4:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B-/C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

Lego my Ninjago?

Maybe it’s the law of diminishing returns, or maybe the charm of seeing the Lego world come to life is starting to wear off. Whatever the case, though The Lego Ninjago Movie is entertaining enough, it really didn’t delight my son or me as much as The Lego Movie (2014) and The Lego Batman Movie (2017). It wasn’t as original, as sharp, or as sophisticated.

Maybe it’s because a large number of gags and verbal jokes seemed to be aimed at a high-school age audience—viewers who have outgrown Legos but whose fond memories of playing with them are still vivid and fresh—as well as those who still put Legos on their Christmas lists.

The Lego Batman Movie was far more successfully satirical in its takeoff on the Batman saga and movies, with a heck of a lot more sophisticated wink-wink jokes and more sight gags going on in the background—all of which added to its broader appeal.

Maybe The Lego Ninjago Movie ended up being something that mostly children and younger teens will appreciate because if riffs not on adult live-action films but on the Danish TV series Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu and related Lego toys. Or maybe it’s because three talents (Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan) new to directing animated features teamed up on this one, or that the story and screenplay were the result of a fairly large committee of 13 writers—often a red flag.

Even headliner Jackie Chan, who gives voice to Master Wu/Mr. Liu, doesn’t have the same crackling energy as he has had in previous films. But mostly I suspect the film isn’t as crisp and fresh as the first two because we’ve seen too many aspects of this plot before: the young teen (Dave Franco as Lloyd Garmadon) who is a social pariah because he’s the son of a villain—in this case, Lord Garmadon, who looks a bit like Zurg and regularly attacks the Lego city of Ninjago. At some point Garmadon starts to feel like Gargamel—just another cartoon nemesis for another group of cartoon people.

Young Lloyd is part of a secret ninja force (not unlike those ninja turtles) that defends the city. And of course, wax on or wax off, Lloyd needs a master, and that’s where we meet Chan, who tells them that real ninjas don’t just use mechs and machines. They tap into “elemental powers.” But as the young heroes try to save the city and something even more difficult—to navigate the halls of high school—there’s also an Ultimate Weapon that comes into play. Why wouldn’t there be?

The action is non-stop, the jokes (though aimed a little lower than usual) are rapid-fire, and the Lego world of bright colors and mechs and machines is something that Lego fans can enjoy. And in fairness, there are some movie-reference gags that playfully allude to films like Austin Powers, Godzilla, The Empire Strikes Back, and Independence Day—just not enough to match what audiences enjoyed in the first two films. Franco also does a nice job of injecting some depth of characterization into a film that otherwise seems content to let action be the driver.

The Lego Ninjago Movie does look terrific on Blu-ray, though, and fans should enjoy several mini-movies and music videos that are included among the standard bonus features. The 3D-CGI animated film is rated PG for “some mild action and rude humor”—another tip-off that the primary intended audience is young. But that’s perfectly fine for many families, isn’t it?

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