It appears as though the year belongs to Warner Bros. — so far. After knocking it out of the park with one of the year’s funniest, and still best, films with The LEGO Batman Movie, here they are again with The LEGO Ninjago Movie. I was worried that maybe it would be a case of too much too soon, but Ninjago is every bit as hilarious, whimsical, and heartfelt as both Batman and the original LEGO Movie that started it all. Keeping the action and hilarity moving at as brisk pace as possible. It’s filled with spectacular animation and instantly loveable characters. Just about the only film that could possibly better it may be November’s Coco from Pixar/Disney.
Starting with a tiny bit of live-action — hopefully not squandering its chances at a Best Animated Feature nomination — a Kid (Kaan Guldur) happens upon Mr. Liu’s (Jackie Chan) curiosity shop. Soon enough, Mr. Liu begins telling the Kid the story of Ninjago where the city is constantly under attack by the diabolical Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux). Unfortunately, for Garmadon, six Ninjas — Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco), Cole (voiced by Fred Armisen), Jay (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (voiced by Michael Peña), Nya (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), and the cyborg Zane (voiced by Zach Woods), lead by Master Wu (voiced by Chan) — always manage to foil his evil plans. What Garmadon doesn’t know, is that Lloyd is his son, abandoned to his mother Koko (voiced by Olivia Munn), 16 years ago. Just when the group thinks they finally have everything under control, Lloyd manages to unleash Meowthra upon his beloved city. Now, everyone must find a way to save Ninjago by finding the “Ultimate Ultimate Weapon” on an age old journey of self discovery.
Funny? Check. Action? Check. Heart? Check. Daddy issues? Triple check. Yes, as with The LEGO/Batman movies, Lloyd is forced to come to terms with who his father is and find a way to balance his resentment so the two can work together. Lucky for us, directors/co-writers Charlie Bean and Paul Fisher — along with their four additional screenwriters William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, and John Whittington — and co-director Bob Logan, present a giant sandbox for themselves to play in. Being based on a TV show was also a hurdle it needed to overcome and boy does it deliver. Filled to the brim with enough jokes and classic kung fu film references to choke a dragon, Ninjago will have audiences drying their eyes from laughing one minute while stifling tears the next.
The cast clearly loves being part of this movie and Ninjago deserves to be every bit as big a hit as both of the other two LEGO movies. Warner Bros. has their pulse firmly on what makes these films work and completely trust their writers/directors with each project. It’s a tough call to decide whether Ninjago or Batman is the better movie, but Ninjago gets a slight edge on Batman for managing to be the year’s best family/comedy/action/animated films so far. Checkmate, Pixar.