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
Sharing the heart, wit, and irrepressible sense of fun that made the first two
unforgettable, "The LEGO NINJAGO Movie" explores another cinematic world-the
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
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
"We have fight sequences choreographed by kung fu legend Jackie Chan, giant
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
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
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
understandably very excited when they asked me to voice a character for 'The
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,"
"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"
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
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
they aspire to.
It's a lesson Garmadon himself hasn't figured out yet. Justin Theroux, who
character proclaimed The Worst Guy in the History of the World, says, "He's the
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
launches actual sharks, Lloyd is ready with the Ultimate Weapon. Unfortunately,
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
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 clichÃ© 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
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
interactions with his ex-wife and Lloyd's mom, Koko, played by Olivia Munn.
separated, and for good reason-it's not easy being married to public enemy
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
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
pilots a giant mech. She's very rad."
Making up the rest of the secret ninja force are Fred Armisen, Kumail
Pena and Zach Woods.
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who wrote and directed "The LEGO Movie,"
"The LEGO Batman Movie," and return again as producers, see each film as a
as well as a progression through the larger LEGO universe. "Each has its own
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,
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
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,
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
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
says, "You have to think harder and more cleverly in this medium, make bigger
choices. In that sense, it's a purer form of animation, to me."
Once again, the filmmakers worked with award-winning effects house Animal
welcomed LEGO designers at the company headquarters in Denmark, to brainstorm
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
virtually snapped into place as if it were molded plastic. But there's a
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
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
says, "There's such a strong fan base for these characters and we used that as
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
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
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
environment to solve problems and tell a story, and that what's cool and
exciting about it."
"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,
citizens running for cover and smoke filling the sky, there is a father and son
who just can't
"Lloyd is a sweet kid with good intentions. He's a hard worker and a true
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
Because Garmadon's attacks on the city have wrecked the homes and businesses
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
"They don't know he's their hero; they just know he's the son of Garmadon, and
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
when he's not, which leads to one of the story's running jokes as Garmadon
mispronounces his son's name. It was Theroux, Bean reveals, who initiated the
Lloyd's name with a double-L sound. "We did a lot of recordings with Dave and
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
Theroux gives the battled-hardened warlord a low-register growl that sounds
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
budding megalomaniac with great hair and dreams of world domination. Now, she's
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
between them. He thinks, 'I'm good-looking. Check. I'm powerful. Check. I have
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
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,
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
more real and relatable."
"Once you discover her history with Garmadon," Bean confirms, "you see the
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,
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
comes through," Lin says. "He adds a great deal to the emotional spectrum of the
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
"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
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
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
been training him to be a good guy."
Indeed, seeing promise in the young ninja, and knowing that NINJAGO City
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
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
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
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
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
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
one in the group who admits to appreciating Master Wu's fluting. His aptly named
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
than relying on these impressive mechs."
Apart from his solo work, Armisen participated in some joint recording
was one we all did together, and one I had with Dave Franco," he recalls. "I've
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
NYA / WATER
Abbi Jacobson stars as Nya, the Water Ninja in the silver leather jacket, who
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
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
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
"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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