Movie review: The Lego Ninjago Movie

The latest outing of the series based on plastic bricks stars Jackie Chan

The Lego Ninjago Movie
Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
With (English version voices) Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods, Jackie Chan

The series of films based on Lego toys has surprisingly proven to be rather decent, despite being at it heart little more then lengthy advertisements for sets of plastic blocks.

The latest entry, The Lego Ninjago Movie, uses Asian-themed characters in a typical martial arts plot. It does not have the same multigenerational appeal as The Lego Batman Movie, but contains just enough to keep parents entertained while accompanying their kids.

Unlike the Batman film, this new entry is based entirely on Lego original characters. There are not as many outside cultural references to riff off of. But the filmmakers manage to bring in bits of classic samurai and martial arts films and even throw in a few flashing images of Bruce Lee.

A big plus is the appearance of global superstar Jackie Chan in a live-cation framing story at the beginning and end. His voice is also in the main part of the animated main section, at least in the English version.

The animated part moves at a brisk pace, running through several genres such as the high school film, with nerds bullied by the cool kids, then through giant monster films, jungle adventure, haunted houses and so on.

The script is rather free form, capturing the feeling kids making something up as it goes along and using various stray items to boost the plot. A laser pointer and a real cat even invade the story, to rather hilarious effect.

There is a main theme of family ties, and that helps to create a compelling plot based on setting aside old grudges and coming together.

Some people might see a bit of a Star Wars element, as the evil Lord Garmadon is clad in black like Darth Vader, and his son fights against him to preserve what is right. A wise old fighter, Master Wu, is a bit like Yoda, trying to teach the proper path.

There is also a bit of the feeling of the Transformer series, with the Lego characters flying around in giant vehicles that keep changing shape. At least, though, The Lego Ninjago Movie is better than the last Transformer outing.

The film has a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor, with the Lego bricks being used for all sorts of purposes as mayhem ensues on the fictional island of Ninjago and its main city.

But the story remains squarely aimed at little ones who want to see giant Lego sets be destroyed. For its credit, the film does more than just blow things up. It offers lots of positive messages in an overall palatable package of action and teamwork. It captures a sense of harmless fun and does not belabor its moral messages too much.

But unless you have kids or are a huge Jackie Chan fan, The Lego Ninjago Movie isn't a must see film. But it is very high quality for what it tries to do, which is sell a set of custom building blocks.

Most projections in Prague are dubbed, though some are in the original English. Check listings.

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