Over the weekend, Ben Wilson attended the New Zealand premiere for the LEGO Ninjago Movie and from the sounds of it, the film wasn’t all that is was cut out to be. Here’s his spoiler free review.
You know those kids movies that happen to appeal to adults as much as the audience their supposedly intended for? The Bee Movie, The Simpsons Movie, Inside Out, The LEGO Movie; all of these could ostensibly be viewed by children due to their licenses, but children aren’t great at picking up adult humour, dirty jokes and subtext. That’s why I loved the original LEGO Movie. What should have been a shameless cash-in based off a toy-line actually had the balls to be an intelligent social commentary on superficial attitudes, all the while bonusing a very convincing and personal message.
LEGO Ninjago is nothing like that.
While the original only looked like a kids movie, and kind of was on a surface level, LEGO Ninjago is fundamentally a kids movie. But not even the good kind like Kung Fu Panda or Finding Nemo.
When I review movies like this some people are quick to remind me that such films weren’t made for me in mind – hence why they’re kids movies. That sounds like a reasoned sentiment, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to justify bad movies for kids. Children aren’t dumb, they’re just less experienced than adults, and we shouldn’t yield to giving them cinematic hand-me-downs because we think they’re at an age where lazy storytelling ‘probably doesn’t matter’. The fact that they are kids means we should be giving them better. These will inevitably be the stories they will look back on and say they grew up with – the ones that will come to inspire their adulthood.
The LEGO Movie was genuinely funny, whereas LEGO Ninjago is run by the worst kind of internet humour. The kind where everybody just ‘ums and ahs’, but not even the crickets laugh. There’s nothing to laugh about when the writing is evidently fumbling it’s way through supposed comedy on the off-chance it finds something that’s actually comedy.
To make LEGO Ninjago’s failings even more prevalent, it’s theme and message are the same as the first film, but with less tact and more cringe. There was something satirically poignant about the master builder’s tale, because when it said you were special, you could tell it was sincere. LEGO Ninjago could be sincere too, but you couldn’t tell, not when the whole story wasn’t designed to say as much. Not when there’s no narrative brewing, and not when there’s already been a LEGO movie which did so better.
I suppose somebody could watch this and feel impressed by the very literal visual craftsmanship. LEGO films always look like the very best versions of your play-time imaginations. But after 3 movies does that really count anymore? Thematically it made sense that the first film be set in a world made of LEGO so it could parody the positive gloss our culture paints over suppressed negative emotions. The resulting world, is one which isn’t real. Even LEGO Batman had the accolade of being probably the best DC Comics movie in recent years.
LEGO Ninjago has the look of these movies, but none of the heart. It’s a LEGO movie in name only, and could easily be a direct-to-TV release of a Saturday morning cartoon.