When you watch a movie adaptation of a cartoon series, you tend to expect some similarities, but then you remember that Hollywood has a way of filling its movies with plot holes, less-than-adequate casting and clichés to the max. Is the latest adaptation of the “Lego Ninjago” cartoon series an exception to this fact? Well… let’s give that some consideration.
The movie opens with a kid entering a Chinese antique shop operated by Jackie Chan. After cleaning up a mess using his signature comedy kung fu, he asks the kid to state his business. The kid explains that others make fun of him, so he prefers to play alone. He then shows Chan a chewed-up, green ninja figure, whom he considers his personal hero. Through the cliché story-teller transition, we are then introduced to the Lego world. The villain, Lord Garmadon, attacks the city on a regular basis, which becomes a symbolic weather report. The hero, Lloyd Garmadon, and his ninja friends, Kai, Cole, Jay, Nya and Zane, are identified via their elemental powers. The group thwarts Garmadon’s attacks using giant robotic suits. Lloyd struggles with his family heritage as all other classmates avoid him like the plague.
Following the first on-screen battle, Sensei Wu, Garmadon’s brother, gives the group cryptic ninja wisdom involving weapons beyond their robot suits — their elemental powers. It’s basically the usual ninja doctrine of connecting to one’s element or inner-self. In connection with the series, Kai’s element is fire, Cole’s is earth, Jay’s is lightning, Nya’s is water, and Zane’s is ice. Lloyd’s element is “Green.” We don’t get any specifics on his power till the end of the movie.
Due to teenage impatience, Lloyd goes against his uncle’s wishes and unleashes the “Ultimate Weapon,” which ironically turns out to be a laser pointer. It ends up being a signal for a six-toed fluffy demon named “Meowthra,” which is just a cat. During their second encounter on screen, Lloyd wishes Garmadon wasn’t his father. This sends Garmadon into a moral quandary, and he follows the ninja on a quest to find the “Ultimate Ultimate Weapon.” When Wu temporarily disappears, Garmadon becomes their guide, much to Lloyd’s reluctance. Through some emotional and comedic events, Lloyd and Garmadon do some highly needed father-son bonding. Meowthra eats Garmadon but later regurgitates him after Lloyd admits his love for him. Sensei Wu pulls a technical fourth-wall break with Chan bringing the story to the end.
First of all, the plot raises many questions. Why fight with giant robots? How did Garmadon get four arms? Though the plot does stick to the main struggle, it’s hard not to wonder how Garmadon turned evil or how he got four arms. He only says, “I was bit by a snake…that snake was bit by a spider, then, the snake bit me.” While there are other plot holes, the mood and comedy of the story make them miniscule by comparison. The elemental power lesson might be questionably timed but is well revealed. Although Sensei Wu’s fourth-wall break might be funny, it doesn’t quite work. While Chan plays Wu, Chan is also the narrator of the story. One cannot be a character in the story and narrate it at the same time, especially when the character the person plays ends the story. Even Garmadon wondered how this was made.
The movie’s comedy is more than adequate; though, that will depend on how viewers react to it. The interaction between Wu and Garmadon is a barrel of laughs. They tease each other like any brothers would. Garmadon is a classic villain — he has a maniacal laugh, an evil volcano lair (cliché as it is) and launches incompetent staff out of a volcano, further enhancing the movie’s comedy. His attack includes at least two Good Vs. Evil cliches:
- A bus dangling precariously from an overpass
- Making little kids cry
Although, these cliches are delivered in a way that makes the audience think the filmmakers know these are cliches, and are just part of the comedy.
The moral lesson is well delivered. Lloyd uses his inner-self to motivate the ninjas into using their elemental powers. Through the same power, Lloyd reconnects with his father. He becomes an agent of change while facing extreme adversity. This brings the movie’s main moral lesson, which Chan delivers: “Even though you’re different, you can still do great things.” You don’t have to be part of the in-crowd in order to contribute to society.
So, is the Lego Ninjago movie bad? I speak with all manner of honesty when I say, Nope!! You can’t expect any movie adaptation to be fully perfect or identical to what it was based on. But you can hope that it will be good. Thankfully, the redeeming qualities of this movie blew all negativities out of the water. The questions the plot raises would only disrupt the movie’s focus if answered. The comedy mixes in well, and the character development is relatable to real-life dilemmas, as well as mood-inducing and emotional. This movie may have questionable structure, but its foundation makes it a movie well worth watching.