The latest iteration of the franchise, which shifts toward the blatantly commercial, pits a teen ninja (voiced by Dave Franco) against his evildoer dad (Justin Theroux). Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

Share story

The makers of “The Lego Ninjago Movie” are really toying with the audience this time around. Which is to say that — far more than 2014’s “The Lego Movie” and “The Lego Batman Movie,” released earlier this year — pitching playthings seems to have a heightened prominence in the latest iteration.

After a brief live-action introductory sequence in which Jackie Chan plays a shopkeeper in a mysterious store cluttered with Chinese curios, the picture shifts into animation mode for a tale featuring all kinds of cool Lego mechanical devices laying waste to easily toppled Lego-brick skyscrapers of the city of Ninjago. Hey, the flying destructo-shark is pretty cool; and the corkscrewing, fire-breathing green dragon is cooler still.

All those and so many, many more are awaiting kid consumers (and their parents) at toy emporiums everywhere.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘The Lego Ninjago Movie,’ with the voices of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Olivia Munn. Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan, from a screenplay by Fisher, Logan, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern and John Whittington. 101 minutes. Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor. Several theaters.

There is a story behind all this, of course, and the trick facing all Lego movies is striking a balance between the merchandising and the tale-telling. “The Lego Movie” did a wonderful job of putting story first. “The Batman “Lego Movie” was almost as successful in that regard. But each time out, the balance seems to be shifting toward the blatantly commercial.

The prominence of overamped scenes of spectacular destruction make the latest “Lego” closer to the kind of sugar-rush experience that too many movies pitched to young viewers strive to provide.

Still, there is considerable substance and cleverness in “Ninjago,” which pits a teen ninja named Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco) against his evildoer dad, a black-clad dude named Garmadon (Justin Theroux, speaking in a gruff echoey voice reminiscent of Will Arnett’s vocalizations in “Lego Batman”). The pair have issues, best summed up in the following exchange:

Lloyd: ”You ruined my life!”

Garmadon: “That’s not true! I haven’t even been a part of your life; how could I ruin it? I wasn’t even there!” Always off raising havoc, no time for bonding.

Or as one of Lloyd’s kid-ninja buddies seeking to offer consolation offers:

“Nobody’s parents are perfect.”

Another buddy: “I mean, my mom is weird, and collects seashells. Your dad levels cities and attacks innocent people. So, they’ve all got their quirks.”

With Chan playing Garmadon’s white-clad, wise-sensei brother dispensing “needlessly cryptic metaphors” with droll flair, there is fun to be had here. Adults can appreciate the verbal byplay. For the kids, there’s frenzied noise, and those toys.