This LEGO movie is probably the most impressive on an animation level but lacks the charm and kinetic spark that made the first film, and to a smaller extent The LEGO Batman Movie, such endearing classics. It’s majestic and sweeping on a grand level, easy on the eyes and clearly the one that made the best use of the animation software. But storytelling wise, the bricks aren’t laid out for a solid, rewarding adventure.
Part of this has to do with the lackluster characters. The villain Garmadon is the only one who is truly interesting or entertaining, while our ninja protagonist Lloyd falters in the shadows of the ultra cheery Emmet and the fame-obsessed Batman. He doesn’t have a strong enough personality to carry this flick along, and his band of ninja misfits are equally as unimpressive (save for the one who talks like a robot, who is hilarious). There are savory moments of banter and self-referential, sardonic one-liners and meta pop culture references that earn their place among classic quips from the previous films (particularly a moment that makes great use of Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden” from Jerry Maguire for a touching moment). But not enough to make it a wholly entertaining feature.
This LEGO movie is more detailed but suffers from that extra attention in the same way Michael Bay’s Transformers series does. Things don’t really look like whatever they’re supposed to be, particularly the robots that Lloyd’s ninja crew pilots. The film also doesn’t make enough use of actual building, i.e. characters taking pieces and making things out of them as we saw in the last two. Perhaps its because The LEGO Ninjago Movie is a more fully fleshed out concept, where the characters only occasionally make reference to the fact that they’re LEGOs.
But really, a key piece that’s missing is no sense of nostalgia here. The LEGO Movie was funny because it was the first and because it had plenty of classic pop culture characters it could tinker with like Gandalf, Han Solo, and of course, Batman. The LEGO Batman Movie was funny too because it took the most popular of those characters, Batman, and gave him his own movie. This film, without a tie to pop culture nostalgia, ends up faltering, and feels more like an advertisement for Ninjago toys rather than what should have been the proud, third installment in a high quality franchise.