[Screen It]

"THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE"
(2017) (voices of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Action: An egotistical warlord repeatedly attacks Ninjago City, aiming to take it over and impose his rule, but is opposed at all turns by his good-hearted ninja son who he abandoned years earlier.
PLOT:
The evil warlord Garmadon (voice of JUSTIN THEROUX) has spent the better part of his adult life periodically attacking Ninjago City and trying to take it over. But he has been thwarted at each and every turn by the good-hearted Green Ninja (voice of DAVE FRANCO) and his team of fellow ninjas. On the team are high-school classmates Kai (voice of MICHAEL PENA), a.k.a. the Fire Ninja; Nya (voice of ABBI JACOBSON), a.k.a. the Water Ninja; Zane (voice of ZACH WOODS), the Ice Ninja; Jay (voice of KUMAIL NANJIANI), the Lightning Ninja; and Cole (voice of FRED ARMISEN), a.k.a. the Earth Ninja.

Little does Garmadon know that the Green Ninja is actually Lloyd, the son he abandoned as a baby because he couldn't handle the responsibilities of fatherhood and only wanted to conquer and dominate the masses. Lloyd has always known the truth, though. In fact, practically all of Ninjago City has known that Garmadon is Lloyd's father and has blamed him for his near-constant marauding over the years. But Lloyd has kept his ninja exploits from everyone except his fellow ninjas ... even his kind-hearted mother (voice of OLIVIA MUNN).

When Garmadon attacks again and finally takes over Ninjago City, Lloyd's mentor, Master Wu (voice of JACKIE CHAN), sends the ninjas on a quest for an ultimate weapon that can defeat Garmadon and the enormous cat monster that Lloyd inadvertently unleashed on the city. But Master Wu's real objective is to teach Lloyd to step up and finally be the leader of the team even as he and Garmadon grow closer as father and son.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
My daughter is now 12. She's way out of the toy phase. I'm so sorry to hear Toys 'R' Us is filing for bankruptcy. But I probably wasn't due back in one of those stores until I was a grandpa. And my Maddie went through many different toy crazes in her younger years. Barney, Elmo, Wonder Pets, Barbie, Disney Princesses. Thank, Caviezel, she was only into LEGOs for about a month or so! It might have been the most expensive 30-day period of my up-and-down parenthood. I think I'm still paying a couple of those sets off!

But I'll give the LEGO people credit. The TV programs and movies they have put out have been pretty clever works. They seem to have a stable of writers that are eager and able to display great wit. They never take their toy stories too seriously and they've never let their tales devolve into increasingly heavy, self-serious wannabe epics a la the "Transformers" franchise. "LEGO"-brand junk has always made me at least chuckle and smile, especially the "Star Wars" stories, of course.

So, I wasn't surprised to find myself enjoying "The LEGO Ninjago Movie." It's light on its feet and totally confident about what it is and what it isn't. What it is is a perfectly entertaining diversion for the kiddies with a script that knows how to get laughs from grown-ups, too, with character-based humor and clever references that only we oldies would get. What it isn't or doesn't do is try and top "The LEGO Movie" of a few years ago, which managed to work on an extra-dimensional level and deliver a depth of thought and feeling that made it appealing even for moviegoers who didn't have kids. That flick also was able to call on a full range of franchises from "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" to Harry Potter and DC Comics.

"The LEGO Ninjago Movie" doesn't have characters like Batman and Gandalf to call on. It's the story of Lloyd (voice of Dave Franco), a teenager living in Ninjago City and burdened with being the son of the villainous Garmadon (voice of Justin Theroux), who attacks the city at regular intervals and is obsessed with one day being its one and only evil overlord.

But Garmadon is thwarted time and again by the Green Ninja and his fighting force of sub-ninjas each of which with a definite specialty (the Fire Ninja, the Water Ninja, the Lightning Ninja, and so forth). Little does Garmadon or the good, but dim people of Ninjago City know, but the Green Ninja is actually Lloyd himself who fights to get noticed by his dad and also make the family name respectable again one day when he can finally defeat him completely.

The movie draws heavily on the Dr. Evil-Scott Evil dynamic of the "Austin Powers" flicks. But it's a good and clever lift. Sure, I halfway expected Garmadon to tell Lloyd (whose name he constantly mispronounces, doubling the "L's") to "Zip it" in several spots, especially as Lloyd got increasingly whiny about his dad never spending time with him or teaching him to throw and catch a ball. But a lot of the father-and-son dynamic here pays off really well late in the film. Surprisingly, the climax is more about conflict revolution that delivering some action spectacle.

But, prior to that, there is spectacle galore and the animators really have some fun throughout. My favorites range from Garmadon tricking out his weaponry to fire actual sharks at his targets to a running gag involving the Ice Ninja preferring to remain stuck in the 1990s decade and not "going digital." Jackie Chan's Master Wu manages to spoof the stock character of the aging mentor with some funny bits involving his incomplete nuggets of wisdom and his penchant for using his master's flute to play goofy songs like "It's a Hard-Knock Life" when Lloyd gets down on himself and expresses his self-doubts.

Good stuff! And I was never bored, and neither was my 12-year-old. Thankfully, she didn't come out of it wanting to collect LEGOs again! Although I can't make any promises if you're bringing a kid or kids under 10. If that's the case, definitely pay for a bargain matinee because you got some charging coming up! I give "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" a solid 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed September 16, 2017 / Posted September 22, 2017


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