With a growing, bouncing baby boy in my life, I've found that my movie watching habits have recalibrated, both consciously and unconsciously. Whether it's because of something I'm seeing onscreen or not, it resonates with a way that I may not have realized before. Then you have The Lego Ninjago Movie, which was an obvious ploy for me and my son to watch movies together. Don't worry, Paul Thomas Anderson movies start NEXT week.
Continuing in the vein of Warner-produced movies about Lego toys, this film is directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan, and written by Logan, Fisher and four others. Focusing on the Lego Ninjago series of toys, the computer-animated film finds Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco, 21 Jump Street), who finds himself in a bit of a rough patch of life. He's generally ostracized at high school, and may be the least respected amongst a series of superhero ninjas in the mold of the Power Rangers. Among this group are Cole (Fred Armisen, Portlandia), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani, Central Intelligence), Kai (Michael Pena, Observe and Report), Nya (Abbi Jacobson, Broad City), and Zane (Zach Woods, Silicon Valley), all under the tutelage of Master Wu (Jackie Chan, The Foreigner). Lloyd is also the son of Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux, The Leftovers), and the ninjas know he has a son, but don't know that Lloyd is that person. Through larger, unforeseen (and pretty funny upon the reveal) circumstances, Lord Garmadon is thrown together with his son and the ninjas, and they learn more about each other in their quest to thwart the ultimate weapon that terrorizes the town of Ninjago.
The film attempts to continue in the spirit of (The Lego Batman Movie) with lots of Lego goodness combined with occasional nods to slightly older humor than the initial target demo for the film. In a sense it almost hones it down to the raspy voice of the co-star, be in Will Arnett in the last film or Theroux here. And in Ninjago there seems to be a higher level of comic banter than the last two Lego films, or maybe it's just me.
And with those elements, bears a surprisingly effective story about a kid's place in the world. Theroux's performance is more wide-ranging than anticipated and the rapport with Franco is a treat to watch evolve. Combined with Koko (Olivia Munn, X-Men: Apocalypse), who is Lord's ex-wife and Lloyd's son, it makes for a darned close to human story. It also doesn't hurt to have comic moments in there as well, such as when father teaches son how to throw for the first time during a battle. It's another indication that the film isn't too big for its britches to know that it is after all, a film about Legos.
As far as a first attempt at bonding with my son went, The Lego Ninjago Movie didn't quite pan out. It's not that it's a bad movie, it's just that he's not old enough to speak yet. So at some point we'll come back to this film and some of the other ones I have in the library for just such an occasion. Because this Lego film, while not perhaps packing a consistent punch as the others, may be the best one to break out from its hard plastic exteriors.
The Blu-ray Disc:
By now we all realize that the CG films are generally going to look great, right? Well if not, Ninjago is here to remind you of this. Sure, it's got practically shot footage with Chan and a young boy at the beginning and end of it, and it looks fine. It's the balance of the film minus those 5 minutes or so that looks good. Colors pop in the yellows of the figures, there are even minor nics and scratches in some of the figures too. Larger natural looking shots of sunsets reflecting against bodies of water look breathtaking just the same as well. This is damn nice to watch onscreen.The Sound:
The Dolby Atmos track is active early and often in this animated film. Large booms of explosions when Ninjago is invaded in the first few minutes. Kung-fu action sequences include a bunch of immersion and channel panning, and when the group is out in the jungle moving towards the volcano, directional effects of environmental noise present a very good level of immersion for the viewer. Dialogue is also clear as can be and the overall soundtrack is much more dynamic than I was expecting for this, but turned out to be one of the better sound experiences I've had recently.Extras:
There's a commentary with Bean and about a dozen members of the crew (no cast) where they talk about working with Chan on set, as well as the various crew contributions that pop up during the movie. They also cover the challenges and ideas for casting in the film and how fun the recording sessions were. It would have been better to have had an actor or two there, but this is still an informative track. Next up are three featurettes: "Building Ninjago" (8:19) looks at the initial intent from Bean on this film, and includes animatics, some of the characters and explains some of the film's nuance. The cast share their thoughts on the material here as well. "Rumble in the Bricks" (5:19) focuses more on the CG direction of the film and those respective hurdles to clear. "Rebrick Contest Winners" (4:39) show some stop-motion shorts that eventually wound up in the film. Three mini-movies (9:47) are next, followed by a look at a Ninjago TV show (11:14) that is quickly and notably more animated CG wise. Four music videos (6:58) and three deleted scenes (7:40) are next, along with an outtakes reel (4:42) in the mold of the Pixar ones, where the flubs are in character. A wealth of promotional material (20:28) cleans things out.Final Thoughts:
As someone who is new to the children's film genre from a Dad perspective, I think The Lego Ninjago Movie is one that has enough laughs and emotional gravitas to be a pleasant experience for the whole family. From a tech nerd perspective the audio and video are superb, and the bonuses are nice, but could have used some more cast participation. Nevertheless it is a solid addition to a library whether you have kids or not.