Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
September 14, 2017

Since LEGO started manufacturing their signature plastic toy bricks in 1949, the imagination-fueled construction blocks have spawned a multimedia empire, encompassing merchandise, video games, theme parks, TV shows, and feature films. A number of high-profile partnerships have resulted in LEGO versions of iconic characters from disparate franchises such as DC, Marvel, and Star Wars.

Following in the footsteps of The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, The LEGO Ninjago Movie is the company's third theatrical release, and is based upon characters and story elements from its animated series LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu. Its central focus is a father and son story between young ninja Lloyd (voice of Dave Franco) and his estranged father, the nefarious conquerer Lord Garmadon (voice of Justin Theroux). Jackie Chan lends his voice as Lloyd's sensei Master Wu and appears in live action segments that bookend the film to create a framework of fantasy and storytelling. The extensive ensemble voice cast includes Olivia Munn as Lloyd's nurturing mom-with-a-secret-past Koko, and Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Michael Pena, Zach Woods, and Kumail Nanjiani as Lloyd's ninja comrades.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie boasts moments of random quirkiness, like Garmadon's explanation for his four arms, and a general who won't stop slurping the remaining drops of her drink through a straw. But the comedy shines brightest during the arguments between Lloyd and Garmadon (who insists on pronouncing both Ls in his son's name, habitually referring to him as "La-loyd"). They banter and squabble, constantly talking over one another. If Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker were re-imagined as father-and-son roommates on a sitcom, their dynamic might very well mirror the amusing dysfunction between Garmadon and Lloyd.

In this interview, taken from excerpts of a press conference held at LEGOLAND California, martial arts legend Jackie Chan, director Charlie Bean, and producers Chris McKay and Dan Lin talk about themes in The LEGO Ninjago Movie and the virtues of martial arts.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

What sort of animation process goes into the creation of a film like this?

CHARLIE: It's interesting, because even though it is made in a computer, we make the film in a similar way to the way that you build bricks. Each individual brick, we make all the bricks in the computer. And then we design the whole world brick by brick in the same way that you would build in real life.

CHRIS: Yeah, we want the movie to feel like kids are playing with toys. We try to make it as tactile and photoreal as possible so that it replicates the idea of what it feels like when you're playing with your toys. That kind of thing. So that's what we love about them. We try to replicate stop motion, the look and feel of real plastic. And I think it brings a real charm to these characters. That's what's fun about these movies. It also feels a little irreverent and innocent.

DAN: Every one of our LEGO movies looks different. You guys hopefully saw The LEGO Movie. LEGO Batman was a little darker. This one's probably our brightest, most beautiful movie yet. And we've incorporated lots of natural elements into it. So in The LEGO Movie, you saw water made out of bricks. Here, we'll see real water, real smoke, real fire, real trees and plants. It's really beautiful to see LEGO mixed with mother nature.

Jackie, what appealed to you about this sort of voiceover role?

JACKIE: [jokes] I just don't know why they hired me to be the voice. I tell the director, "I speak not perfect English...Why me?" "That's what we want! You are Master Wu, you speak Jackie Chan English"...[But I wanted] to do it because I make a lot of action movies...Sometimes [with] action movies, children cannot go to see it. So I said, "How can I let the children know me, too?" And that's the only way. A long time ago, I had Jackie Chan Adventures, so whenever I travel around the world, the children [recognize me]. Even now, everybody says, "Jackie, I watched your movies growing up!" Everybody says that. And I've been making movies 57 years now. Then I want the children [to see me] before I pass away. They'll still remember. So this is why I do [Ninjago]. For the future. Because Master Wu never dies--I continue jumping, jumping, and jumping!

Do you think animated films and TV shows have done a good job of portraying martial arts?

JACKIE: Yes. Because sometimes, martial arts, you have limits. In a cartoon, martial arts [are] unlimited--you know, you can do anything, everything, and you never get old...And also, [they] have a lot of good messages to teach children, how to be good children and respect everything.

Do you have any advice for those hoping to learn martial arts?

JACKIE: Just practice. You know, you don't have to knock somebody down. Just treat martial arts like exercise--good for your brain, good for your health, good for your everything. When you know martial arts, you respect everybody--your parents, your teacher, and nature, the whole world. I think martial arts is a good exercise sport.

Changing your point of view can be a good way to cope with problems. How did that concept get incorporated into the movie?

CHRIS: I think the idea was Lloyd was going through something where he was still a kid, and he had a kid mind and he was selfish. In the beginning of the movie, he's selfish, and he looks at his relationship with his father one way: that he's an antagonist, that his father is a problem that he needs to solve. But he goes through a change because he starts to look at his dad from a different point of view. We wanted people to look at Ninjago from a different point of view. That's why Jackie says that in the beginning of the movie. We wanted Lloyd to look at things from a different point of view because that's his arc--to go from being a child, where you're not really sympathetic to other people, where you're not really empathetic. Empathy is a big part of becoming an adult and understanding other human beings. So the idea of looking at people and sympathizing with other people, sympathizing [with] what his dad went through, observing what his dad went through...That's a big part of his change. And then that way, he can help his friends, he can become a better leader. So that was sort of where some of the impulse from that came from.

CHARLIE: And it spreads out through the whole film, too. The ninjas as well. The way they're solving their problems, they're looking at things in one way: they're solving all their problems with mechs and machines. And what Jackie is trying to teach them is [that] you have a much greater power inside you, and look at the problems that you're facing in a different way. And even Garmadon goes through the same thing--he looks at his family and his relationship with his son in a completely different way as well.

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