The LEGO Ninjago Movie (After the Campaign Review)

When I reviewed the marketing campaign for The LEGO Ninjago Movie I thought the whole effort was relatively harmless, a decent, if half-hearted, attempt to both cash in on the popularity of the toy line that inspired it and sell more of those playsets. There was nothing particularly interesting or motivational about the campaign, it was just…alright.

The movie is focused on Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco), a member of an elite squad of ninjas who protect Ninjago City from Lord Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux), the warlord bent on conquering the city for reasons that don’t extend far beyond “because.” Complicating matters is the fact that Lloyd is Garmadon’s son, something that’s widely known, but because Lloyd’s identity as the Green Ninja is a secret, no one draws the connection between attacker and defender. Things happen and eventually everyone learns a valuable life lesson.

Most of the main story beats were laid out in the marketing, which emphasized the humor that audiences had come to expect from the previous two LEGO feature films. We got the relationship between Lloyd and his father as well as the general personalities of the other members of the ninja team. In fact all those characters formed a big chunk of the marketing, with several series of posters released that featured almost all the characters in the movie.

There are a few things that were in the campaign that aren’t in the final movie, including a major story beat involving Lloyd and his dad. And the framing device of the story isn’t hinted it at all, with the focus firmly kept on the LEGO action and not the way the story is being told, which continues the blending of the real-world and the animated adventures.

The biggest aspect of the movie that was true to the campaign which sold it is that it’s just not necessary. There’s nothing new being told here, nothing unique. Perhaps that’s why this movie hasn’t lived up to the box-office standards set by The LEGO Movie or The LEGO Batman Movie. It’s funny and certainly entertains, particularly if you’re with a younger person who’s more in the target demographic. But it’s just…there. It passes right through within 10 minutes, leaving nothing behind.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie isn’t bad. It’s well made and relatively entertaining. But if you haven’t already seen it, go in with low expectations. There are some decent laughs but by the time you get to the car you’ll have forgotten much of it due to a lackluster story that forgets what message it’s trying to send three or four times over the course of script.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Box-Office Top Five: IT Rebounds, Flatliners Flatlines

The best option moviegoers could think of over the weekend was to see IT, either for the first time or again. The Stephen King adaptation took in another $17.3 million, driven by little but word-of-mouth and continued press coverage that’s been trying to dig into every nuance of the movie and its story to unearth new clues and hot takes to get people’s attention.

That meant Tom Cruise’s true-life drug running caper American Made was relegated to the second position. Apparently, audiences weren’t that eager to see Cruise not playing a super spy in a movie featuring a generic title. There may also have been an adverse reaction to the fact that the movie features a rather “down” ending that doesn’t involve Cruise’s character retiring peacefully.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle tied for second place with $17 million, continuing a relative success that seems driven both by positive word-of-mouth and by the continued release of new TV spots like this one that keeps playing up the over-the-top violence of the movie.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie survives in the fourth slot despite poor word of mouth by virtue of it being basically the only family-friendly release in theaters right now.

Taking up the rear of the top five is Flatliners which, despite a campaign that eschewed cheap nostalgic appeals, didn’t resonate with anyone, scoring terrible reviews that kept audiences away.

Picking Up the Spare: The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Brad’s Status, mother!

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

  • More elements were added to the set of posters that looked like they were based on ancient Japanese artwork and made into a single banner showing off the characters and action.

Brad’s Status

  • While I didn’t see any paid efforts from Amazon Studios in advance of release I’ve now come across a couple paid Facebook ads that praise Stiller’s performance and encourage people to buy tickets.

mother!

  • As I pointed out the other day, Paramount is running at least one new TV ad that embraces the reputation the movie has built up as “difficult” and is trying to turn that into a strong reason to see the film, encouraging people to see for themselves what everyone else is up in arms over.
  • Another postmortem includes insights on how Aronofsky dictated the marketing, how it was mis-sold as a horror movie and more.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie – Marketing Recap

The LEGO cinematic universe expands a bit more with this week’s release of The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Based on the popular line of toys, there’s already been a few Cartoon Network series over the last few years but now, with a big-name cast providing the voices, it’s time for a theatrical debut.

The story follows Lloyd (Dave Franco), a member of a secret team of ninjas who defend the island of Ninjago. While he and the others, including Cole (Fred Armisen), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani) are taught by Master Wu (Jackie Chan) at night, during the day they’re ordinary high school students. Their primary foe, the one who’s constantly threatening Ninjango, is Garmadon (Justin Theroux) who also happens to be Lloyd’s father. So there’s a lot going on here.

The Posters

The first poster is pretty basic and not all that interesting but does get the message across that the movie is coming and that, as we’re told at the top, it comes from the same team that brought us previous LEGO movies. It just shows Lloyd standing at the edge of a pond, his ninja alter-ego showing in the reflection of the water. Not very compelling but it does what it needs to do.

The second poster takes the perspective of someone on the ground looking up as all the ninja work their down through the trees. Everyone but Lloyd has their face covered with a mask to single him out as the main character.

A few different series of character posters were released over the next few months, all of which featured different visual themes.

One had each character in a different unique environment with some goal attached to them like “Be Green,” “Be Masterful” and so on to identify a different character trait or show what kind of skill each had.

One shows each character standing in front of the mech suit, ship or transport they use for extra power and abilities.

One puts each character in front of their own unique symbol.

One presents the characters in what was meant to look like traditional Japanese paintings.

A Comic-Con exclusive poster was given to attendees there that showed Lloyd and his evil dad along with the rest of the Ninjago team. It has kind of a retro poster feel and even was made to look distressed, like the poster for a kung-fu grind house flick from the 1970s.

Another poster shows the cross-worlds elements of the story and is specifically meant to promote Dolby Cinema at AMC screenings, that branding clearly presented at the bottom. The rest of the poster has the Ninjago team looking out over the top of a roof, a real-life cat peering back over it at them.

The Trailers

The first trailer makes it clear the story is filled with the same humor found in the previous LEGO movies, all revolving around the story of a heroic son who is out to defeat his evil father. From the outset the conflict between the two is laid out amidst all the fighting and other action.

If you feel like you’ve just seen most of the movie’s best parts, you’re likely not wrong. This is pretty much what you can expect.

The short trailer that was released at Comic-Con didn’t offer much that was new, just another look at the movie’s comedy and style. Specifically it doubled down on the daddy issues that drive Lloyd to stop his father and shows the real life cat the filmmakers included.

A full-length trailer was released at roughly the same time that starts off with Garmadon rampaging his army through the streets, cut with scenes of Lloyd asking his mom if his dad was always an evil warlord. Turns out she just thought he was ambitious, not actually intent on taking over the world. When duty calls all the ninjas take the fight to the villain, but Lloyd is determined to learn more about his father and so undertakes a journey of discovery. That leads to some unexpected teaming up between the bad and good guys.

It’s funny in all the same ways the first one was, with the jokes flying fast and furious at you. Nothing all that notable here but it’s sure to get the attention of those who have made the other LEGO movies into hits.

Online and Social

A battle scene greets you when you load the movie’s official website showing the Ninjago team taking on Garmadon in the streets of the city. In the upper right is a rotating series of prompts offering various activities for younger members of the audience. In the lower left is a button to buy tickets as well as links to the movie’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles.

The photo on the front page is littered with buttons to various sections that are also accessible via the menu on the left. The first section there is “Videos,” which just has both of the primary trailers. “Fun and Games” is stocked with Games, Wallpapers, Posters and Activities for kids and others to download and play. Those Wallpapers can be easily added to whatever device you’re viewing the site on.

You can get to know everyone better in the “Characters” section, which offers a short bio of that character as well as a poster featuring them to download. “Story” has a synopsis and the details on the cast and crew of the movie. “Gallery” lets you scroll through a number of stills, though these aren’t downloadable.

Not forgetting about commerce, “Products” takes you to a page where you can browse and buy the various Ninjago sets LEGO offers. Finally, “Partners” has links to the companies who have teamed up with Warner Bros. to help promote the movie.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one featured minimal footage from the movie, instead opting for a few brief clips framed by Chan telling a bad ninja joke. There may have been more traditional story-based commercials run, but I can’t find any of them.

Promotional partners on the movie included:

  • McDonald’s, which put movie-themed toys in its Happy Meal boxes.
  • Visa, which seems to have run some sort of sweeps I couldn’t find details on
  • Color Me Mine, which offered special movie-themed events that gave away promotional gift

Key art was used in online ads while the trailers and other videos were used for social media ads.

Media and Publicity

The first look at the movie came in a USA Today story that offered a still and comments with the filmmakers. Another new still came later in Entertainment Weekly’s San Diego Comic-Con preview issue. The studio put out a fun “greeting” video to the fans attending SDCC. The cast and crew showed up a panel there where they had lots of fun telling jokes, revealing new characters and more.

Another new photo was shared in EW’s fall movie preview showing the whole team. That was followed by a fun back-to-school themed video.

The cast would make various comments in various venues, particularly over the last month or so leading up to release, but nothing that seems to qualify as a concerted or purposeful press campaign.

Overall

Let’s not even discuss how essential this movie might or might not be. That’s beside the point. It’s created in the same vein as not only the previous LEGO movies but the various “G.I. Joe,” “Transformers” and other cartoons over the years, as a means to sell toys and action figures. This is both a celebration of the fans that have made Ninjago into a hit line for LEGO and a way to reinforce the idea that they don’t yet have enough toys in that series.

It hits the same kinds of notes as the campaign for the previous LEGO movies, emphasizing harmless violence and humor over anything else. More than anything, I come away from the campaign with the same questions I had about The LEGO Batman Movie, namely whether or not this takes place in the same universe at The LEGO Movie, meaning in a kid’s basement?

Whatever the case, this is likely going to be a hit with the younger crowd, potentially even finally upsetting IT at the box office.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

All the Comic-Con Movie Trailers You Might Have Missed

2017’s edition of San Diego Comic-Con is now in the books. As with many such years, there was a plethora of movie news that came from many of the major Hollywood studios as they seek to hype their upcoming releases. Some of those are just months away from hitting theaters and these promotions are about creating near-term action. Others are a year or more away and the news and other material coming out of SDCC is about getting fans hyped for a movie well in the offing.

If you weren’t able to stay tuned in to all the events coming out of San Diego, here’s a recap of the new trailers that debuted there as well as other announcements related to some highly-anticipated releases.

Justice League

Just as I suspected, the new trailer (technically a “Comic-Con Sneak Peak”) for Justice League opens with Wonder Woman kicking some terrorist butt. We get some setup that the world is missing its heroes, which is bad news since a major threat has just arrived. In addition to lots of action there’s a reference to there being “No Lanterns” here to protect Earth. Superman’s boorish behavior in his last two movies is retconned to be a more uplifting presence to the world and it ends with a pretty big hint that he’s coming back. The whole cast (minus Henry Cavill) also appeared at the DC booth to sign a new poster that very much looks like, but doesn’t seem to actually be, Alex Ross artwork. WB also showed off some Aquaman footage, formally announced Wonder Woman 2, said the troubled Flash solo movie would be called “Flashpoint” and lots more.

Ready Player One

This first look trailer gives you a decent idea of what’s going on in the movie, concerned mostly with establishing the setting more than the plot. There are lots of cool shots and some narration about The OASIS and what it represents. Once you’re in the VR world it leans heavily on nostalgia with shots showing The Iron Giant, the DeLorean from Back to the Future and more. It’s also incredibly heavy on hyperbole, calling Ernest Cline’s source novel “The Holy Grail of pop culture” and director Steven Spielberg a “Cinematic game changer.”

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

It’s a pretty short trailer that accompanied a panel featuring most of the cast and crew, but it’s still pretty funny. Not a whole lot new is shown, just a bit more of the daddy issues Lloyd will have to face as he tries to stop his evil warlord father.

Thor: Ragnorak

Marvel Studios is apparently going all-in on selling this as a buddy comedy featuring Thor and Hulk as the vast majority of the action here centers around the two of them. The trailer that was revealed at Marvel’s panel features lots of one-liners along with the idea that Thor is putting together a team of Hulk, Loki and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, who wins the trailer hands-down) to stop Hela from destroying Asgard and unleashing Ragnorak. God bless director Taika Waititi.

Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Ant-Man and The Wasp

All of these movies were part of Marvel’s big Hall H presentation. Footage from all three was shown but Marvel has said it won’t be released officially online, serving as an exclusive for fans. The audience apparently got a good look at all three, though, and heard the news that Michelle Pfeiffer would play Janet Van Dyne in the Ant-Man sequel, which is a great choice. There was also the announcement that Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, would actually be set in the 90s, with the story involving the shape-shifting Skrulls in some way.

You can view some of the posters and other promotional art released at San Diego Comic-Con in the gallery below.

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