The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Lloyd, I am your father …

C an you show me on this Lego figure where your father roundhouse kicked you? Oh, there’s a premise of kung fu ninja action, but The Lego Ninjago Movie … oh, I’m sorry, that’s The LEGO Ninjago Movie – just in case you were worried there wasn’t some shilling going on – is all about daddy issues. This is a Lego film, right? Is it ok to explore traumatic childhoods and abandonment issues to the Lego crowd? Sure, why not? What could it possibly hurt?

Lloyd (voice of Dave Franco) is a high schooler without a dad. His abandonment radar is so acute, in fact, that every time his father Lord Garmadon attacks the Lego city Ninjago, Lloyd feels compelled to dress as a green ninja and ride a mechanical dragon to thwart the siege attempt. Because of Lord Garmadon’s constant hostile takeover attempts, Lloyd’s non-ninja name is mud. The only school buds who talk to him are his fellow secret ninja defenders – fire ninja, water ninja (when they mix do you get tequila ninja?), I dunno, space ninja I think, and miscellaneous random ninjarazzi. The other ninjas can draw upon their earthly elements for strength and control. Lloyd has the power of “green.” His protests to Master Wu (Jackie Chan) are not unlike Steve Buscemi’s refusal to accept “Mr. Pink” in Reservoir Dogs.

The first running gag is that Lloyd knows exactly who his father is, but opposite is not true. Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux – Theroux’s Lord Garmadon sounds so much like Will Arnett’s Batman that I was certain Will had doubled for this role) is so obsessed with taking the city, he doesn’t recognize the green ninja as his son, setting up some hilarious dialogue first involving past regrets that include insignificant people Garmadon has valued over his son, then a hurtful mocking of Lloyd’s inability to throw and catch, pointing out that Garmadon himself could these things expertly and could probably have taught them, but never had any reason to impart said skills. This exchange ends with Lloyd saying, “just get out of my life!” Lord Garmadon finds this battle taunt weird and awkward.

Please note this dialogue, while constantly tongue-in-cheek, is painful to people with true abandonment issues.

The second running gag is that Lord Garmadon is essentially the same personality as the oblivious Lego Batman, cloaking his painful toy history with an intolerance for fools and an absurd cluelessness. He finds pleasure in the fact that his numbered generals all gear up in costume, yet such is short-lived as Garmadon has an itchy lava mountain catapult trigger finger (trigger cup hand?).

The humor, as usual, is first rate. The Lego people know how to tell jokes. Ninjago might not be quite as funny as LEGO Movie or LEGO Batman, but the same screenwriting base showed up for this one, too. The film is essentially about Lloyd connecting with his dad, Lord (clever, right?), which could be argued is the exact same theme of the original LEGO Movie. I see it more as what happens when a Star Wars fan doesn’t get complete closure with respect to Luke and Anakin. Either way, this is a new-ish take on something you’ve probably seen already.

Lego has undermined its own success here; there’s nothing wrong with The LEGO Ninjago Movie aside from the feeling that we just did this. You didn’t give us time to let LEGO Batman sit and rest a while. I want to say that Lego quietly sponsored two great kids films this year, but quiet has no part of this equation. If you even know the name of a single child under the age of 15, there is a 100% certainty you’ve seen at least one ad for The LEGO Batman Movie or The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Hence, while I enjoyed this film, I’m not going to shout about it; it needs no help.

♪Everybody was Lego fighting
Those sets had retail pricing
Bodies with no-joint righting
They were filmed with splash-cut splicing

There was funky Lloyd, my friend, and bad Lord Garmadon
Your kids will keep at it well past your seventh yawn
Those plastic martial arts with interchanging parts
I think one of my guys was Leia in disguise♫

Rated PG, 101 Minutes
Director: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Writer: Bob Logan & Paul Fisher & William Wheeler & Tom and Jared Stern & John Whittington
Genre: Toy therapy
Type of being most likely to enjoy this film: Your Lego-loving ninja child
Type of being least likely to enjoy this film: Fatherless children

♪ Parody Inspired by “Kung Fu Fighting”

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