The LEGO Ninjago Movie

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy/cartoon peril and violence, mayhem but no one seriously injured or killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 22, 2017

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2017
It’s colorful and entertaining, but it does not come close to its hilariously meta predecessors, “The LEGO Movie” and “LEGO Batman.” It does not draw from as rich a cultural vein as the first two and we have become accustomed to the once-astonishingly meticulous and mischievous use of the LEGO bricks and people. Some children may be upset about the theme of parental abandonment and a father who is a bad guy, even though it is portrayed with gentle humor. But it is often quite cute and it has a couple of very funny ideas.

The movie begins with live action, when a boy (Kaan Guldur) who carries a LEGO figure in his pocket ducks into a curios and antiques store to avoid some bullies and meets Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan) and the store cat. Liu takes the battered little figure and turns him into a ninja as he begins to tell the boy a story.

At the center of the now-animated story is Lloyd (Dave Franco), on his 16th birthday. He lives with his mother, Koko (Olivia Munn) and faces bullies at school (“Have you been to high school?” he asks his mother. “It’s judgey.”) And he faces widespread derision pretty much everywhere because his father, who abandoned him as a baby, happens to be the power-mad villain Garmadon (Justin Theroux). A butt-dialed call from Garmadon, who has no interest in Lloyd and remembers him only dimly as having no hair or teeth (“That was when I was a baby!”) leaves Lloyd feeling wounded. Garmadon may be an evil genius with four arms who throws minions who displease him away via volcano, but he is still Lloyd’s dad, and Lloyd just wishes they could hang out and do guy stuff like tossing a ball.

It turns out that while the cool kids at school think they are unpopular nerds and dorks (like Clark Kent), Lloyd and his friends are secretly (like Power Rangers) super ninjas, with extremely cool “mecs” (transportation and fighting machines shaped like dragons, spiders, and robots). Their teacher, Master Wu (Chan) explains that they also have and elemental (like “Avatar”) powers over earth, water, ice, and lightning. Lloyd just has “green” power, whatever that is.

Meanwhile, after the ninjas thwart his invasion, Garmadon orders his generals to meet him by the fireplace (“The room with the lava or where people get fired?” Turns out to be both). They are quickly dispatched, and he gets back to work. But Garmadon’s next invasion is halted by an unexpected force: the (very funny and unexpected) “ultimate weapon.” Now the ninjas will have to beat or join forces with Garmadon to get the “ultimate ultimate weapon” and save the city.

As with the other films, there are knowing meta-isms, as when Master Wu explains that he won’t die unless it is to teach the ninjas a lesson. Franco and Theroux, along with Kumail Nanjiani as one of the other ninjas and Olivia Munn as Koko, are excellent voice talent. And there are some clever callbacks on Lloyd’s wish that his father would teach him to catch and throw. But it is too long and lacks the imagination and verve of the first two. I hope that’s not too judgey.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of cartoon-style peril and action (no one injured or killed but a lot of mayhem and destruction), issues of parental abandonment and villainy, and some bullying.

Family discussion: When have you shown courage, hard work, and patience? When did you see something in a new way? Why did Lloyd forgive his father?

If you like this, try: “The LEGO Movie” and “LEGO Batman”

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