Director: Charlie Bean, Pau Fisher and Bob Logan
Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Olivia Munn, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods and Jackie Chan
Running Time: 1 Hr, 41 Mins
Back in the day, Saturday morning cartoons were essentially toy commercials. Sure, we all thought we were cheering on Optimus Prime or Duke to take out the bad guys or that the Care Bear stare was an ingenious plot device, but the reality is we were a captive audience for toy companies to market their latest and greatest products to. Whether it was during the commercial break or the show itself (remember how there always seemed to be some really cool new characters-with their own action figure-just before the Christmas shopping frenzy kicked into high gear?), our favourite cartoons shows were pretty much pimping us out to the highest advertiser.
While that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a hell of time sitting in front of the boob tube during our formative years, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this formula while watching The Ninjago Lego Movie.
Every day, like clockwork, Ninjago City is attacked by the villainous warlord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). It’s so common that the local newscast signs off with instructions to duck and cover until the heroic Secret Ninjas-the team of mech piloting warriors who protect Ninjago city-give the all clear after they’ve thwarted Garmadon’s latest attack. But not only are the Ninja’s identities secret (and all six are teenagers), their leader also happens to be the evil Garmadon’s son. And while the citizens of Ninjago are ignorant of the Green Ninja’s secret identity, they are well aware that his civilian alias Lloyd is the only son of their greatest enemy and would be conqueror (and you thought you got shunned at high school).
But Lloyd (Dave Franco) and his fellow ninjas soon face a crisis as Garmadon returns with his most powerful weapon yet, one the Secret Ninjas can’t stop. Against the advice of his mentor Master Wu (Jackie Chan), Lloyd breaks out the forbidden Ultimate Weapon to finally bring an end to Garmadon. Unfortunately the plan backfires and Ninjago soon faces destruction at the merciless paws of Meowthra while Garmadon’s army rules the ashes. Lloyd and his friends embark on a quest to find the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon and save Ninjago from both Meowthra and Garmadon before it is destroyed completely.
Ninjago is harmless, shiny entertainment. It’s sugary candy for the eyes. It has its amusing moments and is at its best when it’s poking a dry, sarcastic finger at current teenage culture and during the father-son interactions between Lloyd and Garmadon. It’s sort of like watching a funnier version of Luke and Darth reconciling but with a happier ending and no Ewoks. It’s filled with plenty of animated sight gags you can only get away with in a Lego movie, which will get a few chuckles from both kids and adults alike.
But in between the sarcastic barbs and slapstick, it takes every opportunity it can to show off plenty of toys. Which, while most of them are cool, makes it impossible to shake the feeling that you’re watching a toy commercial on steroids. Everything from the figures to the mechs the heroes pilot the vehicles the bad guys fly right down to the temples and secret hideouts are available at your nearest toy store (at highly inflated prices). The kids probably won’t notice the product placement too much, but the marketing is about as subtle as Rush Limbaugh on a Red Bull high.
At the end of the day though, there are worse crimes to be guilty of and Ninjago is harmless, family fun. It’s that rare movie adults won’t mind watching with their kids (at least the first three or four times or until their precious offspring start reciting the dialogue). Parents just shouldn’t be surprised if they see a lot of Ninjago enhanced Christmas lists later this year.