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With The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, the LEGO franchise has managed to win over a healthy fanbase. These films have maintained their quality (which is not a guarantee in the world of sequels) and fostered quite a bit of enthusiasm inside the movie industry, as well as outside of it. In fact, I recently spoke to Fred Armisen about the process of signing on for The LEGO Ninjago Movie during a press junket at LEGOLAND California, and he admitted that he wanted to work in this universe as soon as he saw the first film. Armisen elaborated:
Every time, in recent years that LEGO movies have come out, I don't think I'm the only person to say something like this, but it's always a cool thing. They managed to, with the first movie, there was nothing cheesy about it. There's nothing lame about it. It was all really good jokes, and even a really good story behind it. So as it came out, I was just like 'Being in one of those must be the best thing in the world.' So when the offer came through, I was like, 'Absolutely.' To be part of it would be a dream. And the it turned out to be true. All of the other cast members are friends of mine and cool people, so it was almost like a club that I wanted to be part of, and then I got to be in it.
What Fred Armisen describes in that statement pretty much encapsulates what the LEGO franchise has managed to get right so far. These films tend to be accessible for adults as much as they are for kids, and the earnestness of the material from the first film immediately drew him in. The fact that almost every other performer in the movie is a colleague of his is just icing on the cake. It also definitely shows where Armisen's head was at when the offer came in; while it took the presence of a cat to get Dave Franco on-board, Armisen likely would've jumped at any chance to work on a LEGO film.
Of course, despite Fred Armisen's enthusiasm for working on The LEGO Ninjago Movie, he has no misconception about his role in the story. Dave Franco's Lloyd Garmadon is the star of the show, but Armisen seems content to settle in as one of the other main ninjas in the movie. Elsewhere in our interview, he even explained that he thinks he thrives in his performance as Cole because of the film's economical use of his character. By his own admission, he doesn't consider himself a strong monologue performer, so much of the strength of his performance lies in the sparing use of his character and the emphasis on awkward pauses.
In fact, by taking a more restrained approach to how Cole is portrayed in the movie, Fred Armisen even admitted to me that it allows his non-verbal comedy talents (such as his thousand-yard stares seen on Portlandia) shine through even more than if he had a leading role in the ensemble.
With that said, Fred Armisen only represents one piece of a much larger LEGO design here. In addition to the Saturday Night Live alumni, The LEGO Ninjago Movie has also enlisted the diverse acting chops of Dave Franco, Zach Woods, Abbi Jacobson, Jackie Chan, Justin Theroux, Michael Pena, Kumail Nanjiani and Olivia Munn. It's a strong ensemble of comedic performers from top to bottom, and it looks like the LEGO franchise hasn't forgotten that sound basis of well-developed jokes in its third installment.