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THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE

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."

THE JOURNEY

"It's OK, Lloyd, nobody's parents are perfect."

Lord Garmadon and La-Loyd

At the heart of this ferocious battle over NINJAGO City, with mechs clashing, bricks flying, citizens running for cover and smoke filling the sky, there is a father and son who just can't communicate.

"Lloyd is a sweet kid with good intentions. He's a hard worker and a true friend," Franco attests. "But he can get angry and introspective because of his family situation. His father abandoned him when he was just a baby and went on to become the most evil guy on the planet."

Because Garmadon's attacks on the city have wrecked the homes and businesses of nearly everyone he knows, Lloyd's social status at school is sub-zero. Apart from the five loyal friends who know his secret identity as the Green Ninja, everybody pretty much avoids him. "They don't know he's their hero; they just know he's the son of Garmadon, and that's not a good thing," says Bean. "Just walking down the street is a nightmare for this poor kid because he doesn't get any of the accolades, he just gets dumped on."

"He's been living in the wake of Garmadon's destruction his whole life and he's sick of the negative attention. All Lloyd wants is normalcy," adds Franco. Although, despite it all, "Garmadon is still his dad and there's a part of Lloyd that wants to get to know him and understand why he is the way he is."

But the guy is not easy to talk to. For starters, he's got to be right about everything...even when he's not, which leads to one of the story's running jokes as Garmadon repeatedly mispronounces his son's name. It was Theroux, Bean reveals, who initiated the mangling of Lloyd's name with a double-L sound. "We did a lot of recordings with Dave and Justin together and they would improvise and riff on ideas, and that led to some of the funniest as well as the most emotional moments in the film. La-Loyd is something Justin came up with in the room."

Theroux gives the battled-hardened warlord a low-register growl that sounds vaguely threatening no matter what he's saying. "I loved playing Garmadon. Any time you get to be a big, broad villain, it's a lot of fun, and Garmadon is shockingly uncomplicated in his egotism. He doesn't understand why his son wouldn't want to be like him and have an entire city at his mercy," the actor states.

Neither of them really wants to continue fighting, but with Garmadon unable to see past his self-aggrandizement and Lloyd unable to reconcile his hurt, what other solution is there? Koko: the former Mrs. Garmadon

If Lloyd finds Garmadon's motives confounding, that's not the case with Koko. In fact, no one knows Garmadon better than his ex-wife. Koko fell for Garm when he was just a romantic, budding megalomaniac with great hair and dreams of world domination. Now, she's the only person in NINJAGO City who's not afraid to get right up in his fearsome face, stare down his glowing red eyes and royally tell him off. Especially when their son's safety is on the line. It's not her fault if he still finds her hot temper...well, hot.

"Typically, Garmadon doesn't get it," says Olivia Munn. "He has no idea what happened between them. He thinks, 'I'm good-looking. Check. I'm powerful. Check. I have money. Check. What's not to love?' For Koko, the problem is his soul, and his narcissistic selfish ways, that caused her to leave him so their son would have a better life."

As a single, working mom, Koko does her best to guide and encourage her beloved Lloyd through the thicket of adolescence, never suspecting that he is, in fact, the Green Ninja. "She tries to be an example of positivity for him. They have a special, understanding, relationship. In many ways, she sees herself in him," says Munn.

"The connection between Lloyd and his mother, between Koko and Garmadon, and between Garmadon and Lloyd; the dynamics are very interesting and at times, funny, and touching," she continues. "In the beginning, we see them as archetypal characters, like Koko is the super-positive, happy mom, and then you find out she has a secret past, so it's not all cookiecutter. The fun thing about these characters is the transitions they make, and how they become more real and relatable."

"Once you discover her history with Garmadon," Bean confirms, "you see the real sacrifice she made for her son."

Garmadon and Wu: Brothers in Name Only

Clearly, this dude is hard-wired against getting along with anyone-not his son, not his exwife, and certainly not his army generals, whom he fires left and right for every minor or imagined infraction. And not just fires, but fires-fires, right out the top of a volcano. Garmadon can't even make nice with his own brother, the venerable Master Wu, a bearded, white-robed, flute-playing wise man with an anthology of zen-ish axioms and a surprisingly sharp tongue, who Lin describes as "the soul and emotional anchor of the movie, and the counterpart to Garmadon."

"Jackie Chan brings a lot of comedy to Wu, and he's really loveable, the way his voice comes through," Lin says. "He adds a great deal to the emotional spectrum of the movie, whether it's heart or humor, and he also brings a level of authenticity, because we really want this to feel like an Asian-inspired martial arts movie, and Jackie was rigorous in overseeing the action and making sure we were doing it in an accurate way."

"Master Wu is Garmadon's brother, but also his enemy," Chan explains with mock gravity. "Master Wu is Lloyd's uncle, but also his teacher. So, any way you look at it, it's a complex relationship, very tricky, and very interesting."

Wu and Garmadon's long-brewing animosity ultimately erupts atop a rope bridge over a rushing river, which Chan cites as his favorite fight in the film.

Says Theroux, "It's classic sibling rivalry. We don't see what happened to turn Garmadon dark but, over the years, the brothers became estranged. One joined the dark side and the other one stayed in the light, so now they can't stand each other. And now, to rub salt into that wound, Garmadon learns that Wu has been essentially taking care of the son he abandoned and has been training him to be a good guy."

Indeed, seeing promise in the young ninja, and knowing that NINJAGO City needs a champion, "Master Wu is helping Lloyd to achieve his destiny," says Chan.

NINJAGO's Secret Ninja Force

In addition to prepping Lloyd for his responsibilities as the Green Ninja, Master Wu is training Lloyd's friends, five enthusiastic, if somewhat unfocused, fellow high school students: Cole, Nya, Jay, Kai and Zane. Each has his or her own special abilities, expressed in their personalized battle mechs and individual styles-and, if they earn it, these will ultimately manifest as their elemental powers: earth, water, lightning, fire and ice.

At a moment's notice, they must drop everything, slip out of their homes or classes, don their ninja gear and repel Garmadon's forces. It's a duty they take very seriously. More or less. The truth is, though brave enough, smart enough, and (mostly) eager enough to face anything, Lloyd and his friends still have some distance to go before honing their teamwork and reaching their full potential. By Wu's sage estimation, they need to stop expecting mechs and technology to fight their battles, and rely more on themselves and each other.

COLE / EARTH

Fred Armisen stars as Cole, the Earth Ninja, a laid-back guy in a black tank with a serious passion for music. "Cole would hate for anyone to label him as a hipster but he's into vinyl and vintage stuff, and he works really hard at being cool," says Bean.

Cole doesn't like to go anywhere without a pounding bass accompaniment and is the only one in the group who admits to appreciating Master Wu's fluting. His aptly named Quake Mech is essentially a monolithic boom box, with built-in dual turntables and a sub-woofer that keeps him grooving while blasting his opposition with shockwaves of sound.

"Speaking as a drummer," Armisen offers, "vibrations like that have a lot of power, and he uses it like a hammer. Cole's mech is like a souped-up DJ booth."

Even so, Armisen understands where Wu is coming from. "There's a spiritual part of a ninja's training and it's about discovering your inner ninja and harnessing that strength, rather than relying on these impressive mechs."

Apart from his solo work, Armisen participated in some joint recording sessions. "There was one we all did together, and one I had with Dave Franco," he recalls. "I've known Justin Theroux a long time and worked with him before. Everyone was funny, and that's not an easy thing. Sometimes you put funny people together and everyone's sense of humor is not a match. But this group was great. Someone did a good job of getting the right people together."

NYA / WATER

Abbi Jacobson stars as Nya, the Water Ninja in the silver leather jacket, who pilots her nimble Water Strider through land and sea. Her other favorite vehicle is a motorcycle that she customized in honor of her role model, the legendary Lady Iron Dragon. To Bean, "she is probably the most confident in the group, super-tough and definitely not to be messed with."

Indeed, Nya may be Kai's little sister, but when it comes to ninja work, she's second to no one. Says Jacobson, "She's high-energy, motivated and fiercely independent. Nya is not some kind of sidekick in the gang; she's a powerful part of this secret ninja force and plays an integral part in their saving the day."

Getting into the role, Jacobson was especially mindful of her nieces, ages two and four.

"They might be a bit young for this now," she says, "but in a couple of years when they watch it, I'd tell them, 'This is someone you should look at as a good example of teamwork and encouragement. She supports her friends and she's constantly trying to figure out solutions to a problem.' I'm really proud to be voicing this character, to be honest."

Likewise, Jacobson feels that people will embrace the story's themes as she did, saying, "It's heartfelt. It's about friendship and family, and about realizing we all have something special about us, and our own set of skills. Once you find them, the world is yours."

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