THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (2017) Movie Preview

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (2017) Movie Preview

JOHN ROBERT
CHRIST IN CULTURE
MOVIE PREVIEW

SYNOPSIS
In this big-screen NINJAGO adventure, the battle for NINJAGO City calls to action young Master Builder Lloyd, aka the Green Ninja (Dave Franco), along with his friends, who are all secret ninja warriors. Led by Master Wu (Jackie Chan), as wise-cracking as he is wise, they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), the Worst Guy Ever, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad. Pitting mech against mech and father against son, the epic showdown will test this fierce but undisciplined team of modern-day ninjas who must learn to check their egos and pull together to unleash their inner power of Spinjitzu.

Release date: September 22, 2017
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
MPAA Rating: PG (for some mild action and rude humor)
Screenwriters: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler , Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, John Whittington
Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Zach Woods, Jackie Chan
Genre: action, adventure
Official website: LEGONINJAGOmovie.com | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

About The Production
An Epic Tale of Good...and Dad

From the team behind the blockbuster LEGO movies that have delighted audiences of all ages around the globe, comes an all-new, big-screen event, "The LEGO NINJAGO Movie." Sharing the heart, wit, and irrepressible sense of fun that made the first two outings so unforgettable, "The LEGO NINJAGO Movie" explores another cinematic world-the fantastic, faraway island of NINJAGO-with a new ensemble of characters and its own signature style: a fusion of state-of-the-art digital brick animation with elements of the organic world that producer Dan Lin calls "the next step in the evolution of the LEGO films."

What the filmmakers envisioned was an expansive action adventure with the handmade look and feel of something sprung from the imagination of a kid creating a LEGO universe in his own backyard. And to re-capture that excitement for the Master Builder in everyone.

"We have fight sequences choreographed by kung fu legend Jackie Chan, giant mech combat and a creature bent on destroying the city. It's crazy," says Charlie Bean, a longtime LEGO fan and one of the film's directors. "I love martial arts movies, robot and monster movies, and this is a love letter to those genres, seen through the unique LEGO lens."

At the same time, the story touches on themes and values that are not only the hallmark of these films but have been the foundation of the LEGO experience for generations. "It's about family, and self-discovery," says Bean, citing the central conflict between the young ninja Lloyd, dedicated to protecting NINJAGO City, and his father, Garmadon, who is constantly attacking it.

"Even though it's played out on an epic scale, it's an intimate story centered on this father and son. They are at odds with each other for many reasons, beyond the fact that one is a hero and one is a villain. Lloyd feels he missed out on having his father in his life. Through the course of their adventure, they tackle challenges that are bigger than both of them, and they are forced to deal with each other, which requires a process of discovery for each of them."

"When I was a kid, I dressed as a ninja for Halloween more often than not, so I was understandably very excited when they asked me to voice a character for 'The LEGO NINJAGO Movie,'" says Dave Franco, who stars as the fearless but conflicted Lloyd-an outcast high school student by day and stealthy ninja warrior in disguise when duty calls. "I think the reason a lot of people, including myself, are so passionate about LEGO is because, when you finish building a set you feel a sense of accomplishment. You have to put in the work before you can really start playing with the toys and that ultimately makes it that much more satisfying."

Similarly, the story calls upon Lloyd and his fellow ninjas to look within, to find their own true strengths and talents, and their inner... piece.

"These are modern kids and they're obsessed with technology, like all of us," says Bean. "Their teacher, Master Wu, is trying to instill in them the fundamentals of what it really means to be a ninja, but they'd rather fight with loud, shiny mechs. He's trying to teach them that mechs get destroyed and technology can let you down. They need to understand that what's inside them is more powerful than any of that."

As Lloyd and his friends answer the call to action, "The LEGO NINJAGO Movie" also highlights themes of friendship and teamwork. Individual strengths are celebrated as they shed their nerdy high school personas for their secret identities, to protect NINJAGO City from Garmadon. But, as the action unfolds, it becomes clear that these gifts would be better used in concert. Until they can truly work together, they will never achieve the awesome empowerment they aspire to.

It's a lesson Garmadon himself hasn't figured out yet. Justin Theroux, who embodies the character proclaimed The Worst Guy in the History of the World, says, "He's the ultimate narcissist who's always trying to own whatever city he's attacking and be its dictator. He also suffers from thinking, 'I can do it all by myself'... and, 'Why isn't anyone helping me?!'"

There's a twist, too, that makes things more difficult. Garmadon knows that Lloyd is his son. What the old four-armed, red-eyed tyrant doesn't know is that Lloyd is also the Green Ninja, his sworn enemy, that upstart in the Green Dragon mech who's been kicking his butt and thwarting his plans to seize NINJAGO City time after time.

But he's about to find out.

When Garmadon attempts to take over the city this time, in an outsized shark mech that launches actual sharks, Lloyd is ready with the Ultimate Weapon. Unfortunately, the Ultimate Weapon releases a threat neither of them expected-or can control-sending father and son on a trek together through perilous country, in search of the only thing that might put things right. Notes Lin, "Lloyd needs to save his family before he can save the city. He can't keep blaming everything on his dad, and that's his journey over the course of the story, to grow up and be his own man."

For all the movie's goofy, kid-friendly fun, sight gags and slapstick, there is plenty here for adults too, or, as producer Chris McKay says, "We made 'NINJAGO' for the kid in all of us. It may sound like a cliché but it's true: we're trying to capture the kind of whimsical imagination and epic flights of fancy we had as children. But we also made it with love for the Shaw Brothers movies and monster movies, so there are lots of references for fans."

"We just try to come up with the funniest things we can come up with in the room, the kind of humor that plays to everyone across age groups, genders, cultures, and that's the sweet spot we're going for," adds Bean.

For example, adult moviegoers will be better attuned to the undercurrents of Garmadon's interactions with his ex-wife and Lloyd's mom, Koko, played by Olivia Munn. Though long separated, and for good reason-it's not easy being married to public enemy number one-their exchanges suggest at least one of them may still harbor feelings for the good old days. "Koko's relationship with Garmadon is...complicated," Munn concedes.

The shorthand of "Lloyd's mom" or "Garmadon's ex" falls purposely shy of describing Koko, and the full extent of her role is one of the revelations in a tale that has much to offer both boys and girls. Similarly, Nya, the Water Ninja, is a full-fledged fighting member of Lloyd's team, played by Abbi Jacobson, who says, "Nya rides a motorcycle, she wears a leather jacket and pilots a giant mech. She's very rad."

Making up the rest of the secret ninja force are Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena and Zach Woods.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who wrote and directed "The LEGO Movie," produced "The LEGO Batman Movie," and return again as producers, see each film as a stand-alone saga as well as a progression through the larger LEGO universe. "Each has its own voice and personality, and that's one of the benefits of working with filmmakers who bring their own ideas and visual styles," says Miller.

Having launched the breakout feature that showed the world how active, expressive and endearing these bright plastic figures could be in a big-scale setting, Lord and Miller were ready for the next storytelling venture by expanding the environment and ramping up the action. "We've always loved martial arts movies," Lord offers. "They are about empowerment, facing your biggest fears and becoming your greatest self. Also, we figured we'd never see one with a giant cat, unless we made it ourselves."

To help realize the action in the style and tone the filmmakers were looking for, Jackie Chan not only stars in the film as Master Wu, but brought his renowned stunt team to choreograph the fights-bearing his trademark of rapid-fire, spectacularly executed moves, deftly undercut with a sense of humor. How do animated kicks, flips and jumps compare to the real world? "You can create all kinds of movement, all kinds of impossible things, and through the animation, make it 10 times better and more fun," the genuine master declares. Moreover, acknowledging a catalogue of injuries nearly as famous as his lifetime of action roles, Chan laughingly adds, "This way I don't have to do my own stunts, and no one gets hurt."

Getting the minifigures battle-ready without compromising the integrity of their non-flexible joints proved a fresh test. Everything had to function in LEGO terms.

McKay, who has been on the ground with the animation team on all three LEGO features, says, "You have to think harder and more cleverly in this medium, make bigger and bolder choices. In that sense, it's a purer form of animation, to me."

Once again, the filmmakers worked with award-winning effects house Animal Logic, and welcomed LEGO designers at the company headquarters in Denmark, to brainstorm ideas and to create and test models. The goal was that all the LEGO builds seen on screen, from mech to mall to mobile hot dog stand, could be physically reproduced. Like its predecessors, "The LEGO NINJAGO Movie" is constructed brick-by-digital-brick, each piece individually rendered and virtually snapped into place as if it were molded plastic. But there's a significant difference.

As one of the original architects of the LEGO film franchise, Lin says, "In the first movie, there was the Kragle, and 'LEGO Batman' introduced some effects like smoke and water, but here reality comes into play in a big way, with grass, plants, sand, fire, flowing water, even a bamboo jungle." Not to mention a realistically rendered, life-sized cat-a monstrous beast to the diminutive LEGO minifigures-that can lay waste to NINJAGO City with a swipe of its paw. "As the characters interact with this photorealistic world," he adds, "you see how nature can mix with LEGO bricks. Lush and colorful, and lit like a live-action movie, it has a unique and beautiful look."

Acknowledging the NINJAGO television series, which is more traditionally animated, Lin says, "There's such a strong fan base for these characters and we used that as our inspiration. The idea was to take what we loved about the show and expand it, to give it a bigger world and the kind of visual impact you would expect on the big screen, by pushing the animation to the next level."

The feature format also afforded them creative license to build on those characters to tell their own story.

But regardless the medium, "the core concepts of play, imagination and adventure remain constant," says Bean. "There's an idea that runs through all these movies and through the LEGO process, and that is creativity. You can build your way out of dilemmas, you can recreate the environment to solve problems and tell a story, and that what's cool and exciting about it."

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