Stories about killer dolls are certainly nothing new to Hollywood and are even known to have sparked a franchise or two, but in 2018 Norway entered the fray with Checkered Ninja an animated horror film by director Thorbjørn Christoffersen who gave us a movie that was quite a bit left of center in the world of family entertainment, yet as bizarre as that film was it still managed to strike a big enough cord to warrant a sequel.
The original Checkered Ninja was a fairly dark film, especially if it was supposed to be considered a kid’s film, as it dealt with the murder of a child working in a Taiwanese sweatshop, beaten to death by millionaire Danish toy magnate Philip Eberfrø, which resulted in a checkered ninja doll being possessed by the spirit of Nakamura Chōbei, a vengeful ninja who later teams up with a reluctant Danish kid named Aske Stenstrøm to track down and kill Eberfrø. Aske, who is not too keen on murder, eventually convinces the ninja doll of a plan that involved getting Eberfrø framed for drug smuggling instead of the more blood-soaked option. So yeah, Checkered Ninja was not your typical animated feature for kids and the sequel certainly didn’t waste any time reassuring fans of the first film that this one is going a little dark.
The movie opens with Philip Eberfrø (Anders Matheson) orchestrating from behind bars the murder of any witnesses to his crime and the torching of the now spiritless ninja doll because what kid’s film worth its salt wouldn’t open with a contract killing? Meanwhile, Aske’s stepfather has come into some money when his “poop tracking ap” surprisingly lands him a lucrative job and a $150,000 signing bonus, but this windfall allows them to go on a nice trip to get the plot moving along. We also learn that hanging around with the spirit of a ninja had more than a little lasting effect on Aske (Louis Næss-Schmidt) as he’s been secretly continuing his martial arts training and spending his nights trying to become a teen vigilante, with varying degrees of success, and this does set up the sequel with new and fresh dynamic.
Aske is also dealing with the fact that his “girlfriend” Jessica (Emma Sehested Høeg) is suddenly ghosting him and going to high school parties without him, this because Aske is just a “child” and not cool, and if that drama wasn’t enough the spirit of Nakamura Chōbei has returned, possessing a convenient passing hedgehog because the ninja doll is currently a pile of ash, because with Eberfrø being released from prison, due to lack of evidence, a dead witness and the disappearance of all the sweatshop workers who witnessed the original murder allowing him, so our heroic duo must once again work together until Eberfrø is either dead or behind bars. At first, Aske is reluctant to use the family vacation as a way to thwart Eberfrø’s release from prison, the prison being in Thailand which is not a vacation spot his stepdad or stepbrother are interested in, but due to his belief that Jessica’s lack of interest stems from him not being a “bad boy,” he decides that becoming the apprentice to a vengeful ninja may be his ticket out of the Friend Zone.
Needless to say, the Ninja isn’t all that thrilled when the new checkered doll Aske’s mother makes for them, the hedgehog having died due to the combination of its milk allergy and the ninja’s love of smoothies, with the garment being more “girlie” in nature as she used a pink checkered material dotted with cute little hearts, which is not an outfit that instills fear or allows for great stealth, of course, that is only one of the many speed bumps on the road to justice our heroes must face. Fashion disasters aside, Aske is able to shanghai the family vacation to exotic Thailand where Eberfrø is soon to be released, resulting in a very disgruntled stepbrother who wanted to go to Spain to experience churros in their native habitat, but Aske and the Ninja quickly learn that there is a list of names of all the children from the sweatshop and if they get that list and find the children before the villains, well, they can put Eberfrø back behind bars and save the day.
This entry dispatches its horror roots in favour of the “Buddy Cop” genre as the story mostly deals with Aske and the Ninja trying to find a middle ground in their relationship, with Aske’s mind distracted by thoughts of Jessica dumping him for boys with bad reps and the Ninja’s singled minded focus on the mission, which at one point he leaves Aske in the clutches of the villains just so that he could pursue his sole goal of stopping Eberfrø, This eventually does lead to some nice self actualizations from both parties and this makes the movie a little more introspective than many animated films of its kind – as if there are any other animated films like Checkered Ninja – but as any sequel knows you have to amp up the complications to make things a little more interesting and for this one, it comes in the form of Aske’s stepbrother who discovers the true nature of the ninja doll and forces them to take him along in a three-way partnership.
• Danish schools apparently have parkour training as part of the exercise curriculum, how cool is that?
• Aski’s stepfather decides a “Suggestion Box” would be the way to decide where they go on vacation, but the fact that they aren’t allowed to discuss beforehand any preferences this would most likely result in just four separate suggestions.
• They run into Aske’s uncle, who is able to provide a timely rescue because Thailand is such a small country and not for the reason that it’s a convenient Deus ex machina.
• Aske and the ninja must infiltrate a Taiwanese nightclub called the “Lucky Fucky Club” which is certainly not an establishment you’d find in a Disney movie.
What is strange is that the story seems to start out with a typical “treasure hunt” plot structure, with Aske and the ninja having to track down the ten missing children before the villains do, with them overcoming obstacles along the way, but the film wraps up after the very first one is located, which makes the ending seem rather abrupt if still mostly satisfying. It should also be noted that though there are still quite a few “adult-related moments” this sequel isn’t nearly as dark as the original film as its themes are more about friendship and being true to yourself than it is about murderous revenge, though we do get some solid revenge here, and aside from such ventures into locations like the “Lucky Fucky Club” this entry is a little more “family-friendly” and its core message is quite solid, making it a movie that I can recommend to an even broader audience. Now, the jury is still out on whether or not Checkered Ninja will become a franchise, this kind of movie rarely gets the exposure it deserves, but my fingers are crossed that someday we will get Checkered Ninja 3: Evil is Free.
Checkered Ninja 2 (2021)
Movie Rank - 7/10
This sequel may not be quite as dark as the original film, but it still deals with some heavy subject matter and thus any parent should give this one a peruse before sitting their child down to watch a movie about a ninja doll and child murderers, that all said, I really got a kick out of this entry and I truly hope there is a third.