'Lego Ninjago' Spinoff Could Hit Theaters Before 'Lego Movie' Sequel

Lego Movies Still - H 2014
Warner Bros. Pictures

Lego Movies Still - H 2014

Warner Bros., which only has rights to one "Lego Movie" sequel, looks to build an interlocking franchise from its new global smash.

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Given the success of Warner Bros.' The Lego Movie, a sequel is a fait accompli. But the studio plans to expand its Lego franchise well beyond the traditional follow-up treatment — despite a potential bump in the road.

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Warners' greenlight committee will decide during the coming weeks whether to move forward simultaneously with The Lego Movie 2 and a stand-alone Lego Ninjago film, and if so, which will hit theaters first. Sources say the studio faced an original greenlight deadline of November 2013 on Ninjago but received an extension from Denmark-based Lego. Dan Lin and Roy Lee, who produced Lego Movie, are on board to produce Ninjago alongside Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Charlie Bean (Tron: Uprising) will direct.

Adding a Ninjago film to its slate would be an important move for Warners because the studio only has rights to one Lego Movie sequel. Sources say the toy giant and the producers are free to take the property to another studio for any subsequent Lego Movie outings. But Lin and Lee, who have their first-look deals at Warners, are expected to remain at the studio if the Lego Movie franchise extends beyond a second chapter. Expanding the Lego universe with Ninjago would only strengthen the Warners relationship.

Featuring ninjas, dragons and mystical snakes, the popular Ninjago toy line already has spawned the hit Cartoon Network series Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, written by Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman, brothers who received "story by" credit on Lego Movie and would be involved in the sequel. The Hagemans also have written a draft script for Ninjago. "The success of The Lego Movie is great, but it's also a burden and a curse," says Dan Hageman. "It set the bar really high for the franchise."

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Lego Movie has proved a February box-office beacon. The 3D film, which cost $60 million to produce and features the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman, passed the $196 million mark worldwide during its second weekend of release.

But Ninjago, viewed as a boy-friendly property, might be a riskier proposition than Lego Movie with its gender-neutral appeal. Nonetheless, the Hagemans cite a Cartoon Network statistic that Ninjago's audience is 30 percent female. Further, its reliance on Chinese lore should help in that important market.

Ninjago likely would be an action-adventure movie with comedic elements, as opposed to Lego Movie's straight comedy. Also unlike Lego Movie, which has played off parents' familiarity with the iconic brand, Ninjago is a toy kids feel is their own. Notes Hageman, "Their parents can't even pronounce it."

E-mail: Tatiana.Siegel@THR.com
Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27