“The Lego Ninjago Movie” is the riskiest Lego-inspired feature yet. It lacks the years of anticipation that greeted 2014’s “Lego Movie” and this year’s “Lego Batman Movie”; “Ninjago,” a collection of ninja-based toy sets and a TV series, dates to just 2011. Its fan base is young, and for them, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is ridiculously entertaining.
Similarly, parents and grandparents with some basic knowledge of the setting and characters will find the film enjoyably silly and surprisingly moving. They will also find it rather exhausting.
The latter element is a Lego movie trademark — visually, everything but the brick kitchen sink is thrown at the screen, and the result is an immersive, generally impressive experience.
But this dizzying array of action and color is not for everyone. And with a story that is nearly impossible for non-fans to follow, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” might leave adults and newbies with whiplash.
The adults at the screening my 7-year-olds and I attended did not fall into that category. Judging by the laughter in the room, the film was a hit; my son is a bit prone to hyperbole, but he called it “the best movie I’ve ever seen.”
OK, that’s a bit much. But the story of teenager Lloyd Garmadon — a.k.a., the Green Ninja — is certainly a blast.
After a winking live-action prologue featuring the great Jackie Chan, we are whisked away to Ninjago City. There is little introduction to this location; let’s just describe it as a bustling metropolis that seems to be in Japan. The exact location is never clear.
Just outside the city is the volcanic lair of the maniacal Lord Garmadon (voiced with relish by “The Leftovers” star Justin Theroux), a four-armed warlord with an army of followers. He is estranged from his son Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco), a somber teenager doing his best to grow up in a world that knows and hates his father.
What most do not know is that Lloyd is part of a secret ninja team led by the wise Master Wu (the voice of the aforementioned Jackie Chan), the brother of Lord Garmadon. There is a humorous rhythm to the film’s earliest scenes — Garmadon attacks, the citizens of Ninjago City run in fear, the ninjas arrive to save the day, repeat.
As Lloyd and Lord Garmadon battle, the son hints at his parentage. The father is, of course, oblivious. It is only when Lloyd makes a crucial mistake and unleashes a giant cat (“Meowthra”) that he unveils his real identity.
Lloyd and his friends must now find a way to unleash their elemental powers, deal with Lord Garmadon, and defeat Meowthra that is now terrorizing Ninjago City.
Got all that? Believe it or not, in the context of the relentlessly busy “Lego Ninjago Movie,” these plot points fit together nicely. There are some dips in the 100-minute film, but directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan keep the sight gags coming and the father-son relationship front-and-center.
There are some genuinely sweet moments between Lloyd and his father, and much of our involvement is due to the voice work of Franco and Theroux.
While the Lego film and TV efforts can be seen as cynical propositions — my son gleefully pointed out the “Ninjago Movie” playsets we’ve already spotted in stores — the messaging is always centered around self-worth and the spirit of teamwork. There is much, then, for parents to be pleased with here, even with some butt jokes.
The storytelling is often over-adrenalized and the visuals eye-popping, but the humor and sweetness make “The Lego Ninjago Movie” a winner. And if you’re a 7-year-old, it might even be the best movie ever made.
“The Lego Ninjago Movie”
3 stars (out of 4)
Starring: Voices of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Jackie Chan, Olivia Munn
Directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rating: PG for some mild action and rude humor
The battle for Ninjago City calls to action young Lloyd, a.k.a. the Green Ninja, along with his ninja warrior friends. Led by Master Wu, they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad.