Lego Ninjago Movie
Animated films create a certain emotional distance between the
voice actors and their viewers, and Lego animation adds another layer of
separation, because of the very stylized Lego art.
The characters look like square boxes with painted faces, and
plastic circle-grips instead of hands.
And the animation art doesn't register facial expressions of the
characters, either, so all the emotion has to come from the voices of the
Despite those self-imposed limitations, there's a lot to like about
“The Lego Ninjago Movie,” especially the way it begins.
A “real” boy wanders into a curio shop full of fascinating
trinkets, and benevolently presided over by a kindly Asian man (Jackie
Chan), who doesn't fuss at the boy for handling items he hasn't bought.
Instead, the man tells the boy a story, about six kids who are
school friends, but also secretly ninja warriors.
Their city, Ninjago, is threatened by the evil Garmadon (the voice
of Justin Theroux), but they are guided by their Ninja teacher, Master Wu
(the voice of Jackie Chan). The
kids also have a leader, Lloyd, the Green Ninja (the voice of Dave
Franco), who suffers in high school because everyone knows that his Dad is
the evil Garmadon. What they
don't know is that Lloyd is part of the Ninjas protecting the city, but
things take a personal turn when Garmadon and Lloyd finally talk to each
other about their own relationship, or lack thereof.
This part might actually be a little sad for kids watching this
whose parents are divorced. We
find out that Garmadon and Lloyd's mother, Koko (the voice of Olivia Munn)
had a strong emotional bond for a while.
But Koko wanted to spend her energies raising their son, and
Garmadon wasn't willing to invest his life in that, and so they divorced,
and Lloyd finds himself resenting the fact that his Dad was never around,
never taught him how to throw, or catch, or drive, much less how to be a
Man in the world. When
Garmadon and Lloyd find themselves unexpectedly thrown together for a
time, Lloyd isn't afraid to tell his Dad that his abandonment wasn't cool.
And yes, his Dad finally feels bad about it.
But that little emotional breakthrough is short-lived, because we
still have to save the city (from the evil giant cat, who keeps knocking
over the legos?). And it's not
like the broken family gets together again (which wouldn't necessarily
solve everything, anyway). But
at least now there's a line of communication open, but one can't help but
wonder---what about the kid in the audience whose relationship with an
absent parent doesn't show any signs of improvement?
Won't the viewing of this film be a bit bittersweet, despite the
breezy cultural references and the cartoonish screenplay?
Yes, it's fun, but not always lighthearted.
The Lego movies represent some really creative filmmaking, but this
one seems to contain some hidden emotional barbs that are as unexpected as
they are unnecessary.