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The LEGO NINJAGO Movie reveals new villain: A cat!

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The third film in the LEGO movie world chopped its way through the crowd at Comic-Con and stood out with a packed panel that showed off the geeky side of its well-assembled (lol, get it? lol) cast.

The panel enlisted Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, and Zach Woods, as well as rising power producer Dan Lin, one of the key players in the budding LEGO film universe.

The LEGO NINJAGO Movie, the third film in the Warner Bros. franchise, stars Franco as Lloyd, a native of the island of Ninjago, who fights to confront his evil warlord father (Theroux) with the help of five other teen ninja defenders — each harnessing an elemental prowess and high-tech mech — as well as his uncle, a master sensei (Jackie Chan).

NINJAGO, for the record, is one of LEGO’s biggest properties, and Theroux put it best when he explained his education into the ninja-based world: “NINJAGO is like fight club for 10-year-olds. If you’re over that age, you don’t know it exists. And when I got cast, [kids reacted] like I just got cast as Luke Skywalker. I quickly educated myself realized how cool it was.”

Franco, as the leader of the ninja group, introduced a new trailer which showed off more of the struggle that Lloyd faces as the son of “the worst guy in the world.” The clip also teased a certain romantic-comedy element, with the tentative courtship between Lloyd’s parents Koko (Munn) and Garmadon (Theroux), and highlighted the high-school outcast vibes that Lloyd faces as the son of a warlord. Best of all, the trailer revealed the most important news about the film yet: There’s a cat. It terrorizes the city. And its name, apparently, is Meowthra.

“We are incorporating natural elements really for the first time,” said Lin. “It’s almost like LEGO put in your backyard, with real water, real trees, real grass. I don’t want to give away too much but we also have other real world elements that slip into the world. In the first movie, we had the Kragle, and we’ve taken that to the next level with LEGO NINJAGO.”

Lin added: “We’re trying to capture what’s going on in your mind as you play with LEGO — the first LEGO Movie was an action adventure movie. LEGO Batman was a superhero movie. And now LEGO NINJAGO, we try to tackle the martial arts-and-giant-robot movie.”

Every cast member geeked out about the reveal of their characters’ actual mini-figures — “I’m very distracted by my little guy!” Jacobson beamed — and all revealed a deep love for growing up with LEGO (“Pakistan’s made of LEGOs— I lived in a LEGO house,” joked Nanjiani), being a LEGO (“My career has peaked,” said Franco), and gaining street cred from association with LEGO.

“I really was just doing it for my son,” said Pena. “I love him immensely, and I think now I can be the cool dad.”

By coincidence, fatherhood is a key theme in the movie, and it grew well beyond its place in the script thanks to the joint recording sessions that Franco and Theroux did together (a rarity for animated films, which typically record the voice cast separately). “This is already my favorite project I’ve ever been a part of,” Franco gushed. “Genuinely, I’d be so content if the only acting roles I get from here on out are LEGO Ninjago sequels. I’ll be a happy man.”

Franco and Theroux didn’t get the only one-on-one time. One mega-sized session united the full cast for the first and only time, where improvisation was rampant and the ensemble’s bond first developed. “I’ve never heard Justin Theroux’s voice in person, and my God, what a voice,” gushed Woods. “Like an FM DJ had a kid with a cello.”

Though he didn’t attend the panel, Jackie Chan also dropped in with a surprise video message that had the room at Comic-Con roaring. “I had a fantastic time on this movie,” said the martial arts master. “It has big action, big laughs, and big heart. I’m very proud of the fight scenes because my team and I did the choreography. Yes, those ninja moves are mine!”

In fact, in a particularly exciting technical move, the animators did follow actual footage and fight choreography by Chan’s team, who performed all the hand-to-hand martial arts and wire work that served as the basis for the movie’s fight scenes. “It’s something that’s never been done before in an animated movie, and it makes it all feel very real,” said Lin. “And what’s fun is, we played with the restrictions of the LEGO mini-figs. It’s really fun seeing Jackie Chan martial arts action with LEGO mini-figs doing it. The arms don’t bend!”

The LEGO NINJAGO Movie hits theaters Sept. 22.