As a fan of the original LEGO Movie and LEGO Batman, I admit I was a little skeptical about the new LEGO NINJAGO Movie. I wasn’t very familiar with the NINJAGO franchise and wasn’t sure if my 10-year-old daughter would be that into an action film featuring LEGO minifig ninjas.
Last week, I was invited by Warner Brothers to a press junket featuring a screening of the film and let me tell you, wow. She loved it, I loved it, and I don’t say this often about kids movies, but I look forward to going back this week with my other daughter.
I’m sure a lot of you are considering whether to take the kids for the opening night tonight, September 22, or sometime this weekend — especially if you have girls, or kids who aren’t already into the franchise.
It’s so easy for parents to look at an action-based movie like this with a male lead and automatically think “for boys.” (Dang those gender norms.) But I’d urge you to think of it differently.
Here are 7 reasons I think girls of all ages will really like the film..
1. It’s funny
Kids like funny. And this is definitely funny. There’s a reason all the NINJAGO ninjas are voiced by comedians and improv vets: Dave Franco takes the lead as Lloyd, while his teens-by-day/ninjas-by-night squad is voiced by Silicon Valley‘s Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods, SNL alum and Portlandia’s Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson of Broad City, and Michael Peña of The Martian and Antman fame.
Plus the humor works on two levels, as all good family comedies do. When the evil Lord Garmadon explains that he has four arms because, well, he was bit by a snake…that was bit by a spider — kids will laugh because it’s funny.
Adults, meanwhile, will laugh because it’s totally a thing you might hear your kid say when playing with their own LEGO sets. We will also laugh because Jackie Chan in a comedic role is a thing of beauty.
I laughed. A lot. Ask anyone sitting near me.
2. You don’t have to know NINJAGO to follow along
The A+++ grand slam home run (IMHO) of 2014’s original LEGO Movie was in part because the filmmakers were creating a story from scratch, beautifully weaving in LEGO’s own themes of play, creativity and imagination. The LEGO NINJAGO Movie team definitely had the freedom to return to this winning formula, because most fans will not be encumbered by a well-known existing story, the way The LEGO Batman Movie was.
So really,NINJAGO’S relative lack of familiarity is a plus, not a minus.
You don’t need to have ever picked up a LEGONINJAGO minifig, watched the Masters of Spinjitzu animated series, or even have heard of NINJAGO at all to jump right into the well-developed characters and engaging story. So they’re really welcoming new girls and boys to the franchise in a smart, fun way.
The best part of the trailer: It’s not like all the funny lines are just here.
I will add this caveat though: There is a lot going on in the film. So while newbies will love it, I imagine a second or third screening when it’s streaming at home will go a long way with kids.
3. The female characters are ass-kickers
It’s so important for all kids to see strong female characters in action movies. And while the movie would not pass the Bechdel test the two main women do have strong personalities, admirable traits, and clear character motivations in their own right.
Nya, the water ninja is perfectly voiced with sassy confidence by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson. You’ll love her the second she’s introduced, breaking the fourth wall to smackdown the narrator, who refers to her as “the girl ninja.”
She tells him, over the roar of her motorcycle, to check his gender stereotypes. And my daughter and I were like, “yeah!” /fist pump
The other main female character is Lloyd’s mother, voiced by Olivia Munn. She doesn’t seem like an important character in the beginning — but she is. She does a lot more than fret about his well-being and cook dumplings. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
(Okay, if you want one small spoiler: The writers may have found some inspiration from Hancock. But that’s it! That’s all I’m giving you.)
It was also a nice surprise to see that so many of Garmadon’s generals were women; in the way I was surprised to hear Gwendoline Christie’s voice from beneath the Captain Phasma helmet in The Force Awakens. And yes, that probably says as much about my own ability to fall victim to gender norms in films as much as Hollywood does.
So, I have to give props to Garmadon as an equal opportunity supervillain, willing to hurl a failed female general out a volcano just the same as the men.
4. At its heart, this is a film about family.
The movie opens with a humorously poignant scene of Lloyd excited to get a call from his dad on his birthday — only to realize his dad butt-dialed him. Mispronounced his name. Forgot his birthday. And then uh, denied his existence at all.
Shades of 16 Candles, anyone?
All the best superhero movies always have family relationships at their core (Spiderman’s protection of Aunt May; Wonder Woman’s defiance of her mother; Superman’s resolve to find his birth father and discover his true identity) and LEGO NINJAGO Movie takes a strong cue from the classics in this way that brings genuine emotion to the narrative.
Our hero, Lloyd, is the son of a single mom, estranged from his dad, mentored by his uncle, Sensei Wu (Jackie Chan!) and finding family in his friendships with his fellow secret ninjas.
As you can imagine, the hero’s journey must address not just a chance for Lloyd to discover his inner powers and potential as a ninja to engage in an epic battle to save NINJAGO; but to try and find some reconciliation with his father. That’s a story anyone can get into.
5. A core theme is fitting in and finding your place
Younger kids will certainly laugh at the humor that ensues from Lloyd having a super-villain dad that isolates him from his schoolmates. Like, they literally all sit on the other side of the school bus from him when he gets on. (“There’s Lloyd…his dad always ruins everything.“)
I think kids in their tweens and teens will particularly relate to the messages of finding your tribe, ignoring the haters, believing in yourself, and channeling your inner strength in the face of adversity — whether it’s mean kids at school, or, you know. A ninja in a giant shark robot destroying your city.
In the spirit of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Holes, Goonies, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, and basically every good John Hughes movie…this is a theme that always has resonance. And the “friends stick together” message is one that never gets tired for me.
6. Garmadon is a the best new cartoon villain since Gru
Justin Theroux’s evil Lord Garmadon is easily the breakthrough character here, and totally deserves his own prequel. He never ceases to break up an intense scenes with a wryly hilarious line, and his delivery is spot-on.
Part of the fun is that, like Gru in Despicable Me, there’s a wonderful dichotomy to his character: He’s blending reluctant fatherhood with the life of a power-hungry, sociopathic supervillain warlord. And so…humor ensues.
We’ll just pretend he’s not an incredibly nice guy in real life.
As we all know, LEGO = Creative play. And so, Garmadon is going to offer kids a fun new villain to incorporate into their playdate adventures, along with Darth Vader, Smeagol, Harley Quinn, and Maleficent. Plus, think what you can do with a minifig with four arms!
He would totally steal all the treats from the LEGO Friends Sweetland Bakery, and then Mia will have to go all Ninja on him, turning that pretzel into a makeshift Chinese Throwing Star.
7. It will create a renewed interest in martial arts.
The great thing about animation? Gravity-suspending leaps, body-twisting kicks, and total defiance of all laws of physics. Boom! So while kids will be excited to act out some of the moves they see in real life, I think what could be extra cool is the desire for more kids of all kinds to learn the discipline, self-confidence, strength and poise gained from a real martial arts class.
Parents: Start looking for offerings in your area, trust me. Because if Kung Fu Panda didn’t do it, this will.
these are all reasons that all kids will like the LEGO NINJAGO Movie. Not just girls.
You can grab tickets for the LEGO NINJAGO Movie which opens today, September 22 in theaters everywhere.
Thanks to Warner Brothers for hosting my daughter and me at LEGOLAND California for two nights, and including Cool Mom Picks in the press junket. My daughter basically wants to move into the NINJAGO themed room for life. Oh, and…these are all my own opinions because, duh. Don’t they sound like my opinions?