How to wean a small boy off Lego Ninjago?
April 7, 2021 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Our nearly 6 year old son is really into Lego Ninjago. We hate it. What can we offer him instead that is ticks all the awesome boxes but isn't racist?

We are white and so is our son. We are trying to teach him (in age appropriate language) about cultural appropriation and racist stereotypes, but while also not 'banning' anything.

He adores all the lego franchise cartoons*, and particularly Lego Ninjago. But it's just... ugh. So gross.

Pretty sure that forbidding him from watching it would backfire, and we already tried hiding it on Netflix. 'Playing Ninja' is now his favorite make believe game, but he's running around as a ninja named "Lloyd" ffs..

Ideally, we'd like to find a different cartoon or show that is has all the silliness and exciting action, but has Asian characters at the center of the story. Or at least doesn't center white boys as the heroes.

Is there an awesome fighty silly adventure cartoon series appropriate for little boys, that doesn't involve cultural appropriation? Any other suggestions for weening him off this?

Bonus points if there is more than one token female character! (who am I kidding. that's never gonna happen.)

*I'll keep Why are all the lego cartoons so bad? as a question for another day.
posted by EllaEm to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Two PBS series that match your details and we have enjoyed are Word Girl and the Odd Squad.
posted by childofTethys at 8:14 PM on April 7, 2021

Best answer: Avatar the Last Airbender? (comic series, not the movie)
posted by nickggully at 8:27 PM on April 7, 2021 [23 favorites]

Pokemon, Yu-Gi Oh, Beyblade, etc are the obvious ones. They all involve action and have silly moments and are good for kids that young and are all vaguely Asian centred.

Beyond that, Naruto? My kids (6 and 9) watch it during the week and my wife says it's more age appropriate than One Piece, which I watch with them on weekends.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:57 PM on April 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

Honestly our ninjago loving kid also really enjoyed my little pony, which is quite in line with what you’re asking. We were able to piece out that our kid really liked a long story being told, and my little pony is a pretty big franchise.

6 may be a little young for the last air bender, but you’re probably not far away. Very soon you will have She-Ra, Kipo and the age of the wonderbeasts, gravity falls and you’ll probably want to join in watching.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:18 PM on April 7, 2021 [15 favorites]

It’s not in the least fighty or silly, but he’s maybe almost the right age to have his mind blown by Spirited Away. If that works, you have the whole of Studio Ghibli to explore.
posted by rd45 at 12:58 AM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that Spirited Away is maybe quite scary for a 6 year old? It's one of my favorite films but I would have been terrified of it as a child, especially when Chihiro's parents abandon her after turning into pigs.
posted by Zumbador at 1:51 AM on April 8, 2021 [17 favorites]

Rather start with Totorro and Kiki's Delivery Service if you want to show him the Gibli movies.
posted by Zumbador at 1:53 AM on April 8, 2021 [21 favorites]

When my kids were into Ninjago they were also into PJ Masks, and Wild Kratts.

I completely get where you are coming from, but I'd suggest that you have maybe 6 months of Ninjago love left, all of my kids aged out pretty much at 6 1/2.
posted by OmieWise at 2:34 AM on April 8, 2021 [6 favorites]

I've grown to trust Netflix-produced kids content, as overall I find the quality on average pretty good, and they tend to be good about representation (plus no ads!). What you find appropriate for your 6 year old is of course up to you, but if She-Ra and Kipo are a bit too mature (though both are great), Starbeam, Rescue Riders, and True and the Rainbow Kingdom are three "exciting" shows for little kids that all feature female (co-)leads (although everyone is basically white) with overall positive messages. Your kid might be too old for these shows now, but my 5 year old still likes them.
posted by Alex404 at 2:37 AM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lego has a new range called Monkie Kid:
Based on the centuries-old Chinese legends of The Monkey King and The Journey to the West, Monkie Kid creates a world of traditional heroes and villains for a new generation of kids. Designed to inspire kids’ creativity and resilience, The Monkie Kid is destined to awaken the hero in your children.
There's an associated TV show, and I believe the Lego range and show have been released and were specifically designed for the Chinese market. Actually having looked it up, the TV show is currently only shown in China.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:18 AM on April 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Two gentler movies are My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo. Both of my sons loved them and they were way less scary than Spirited Away.
posted by childofTethys at 4:20 AM on April 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Surprised no one has mentioned that stalwart standby Power Rangers. There are so many iterations available on Netflix.
posted by MadMadam at 5:13 AM on April 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

The new Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is waaaaaay better than the original cartoon and very gentle.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:24 AM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi all, thanks for the suggestions so far! Just to clarify, I'm looking specifically for shows that center Asian or Asian-American characters and that are silly-action rather than whimsical. Previously loved shows that he's now outgrown or finished watching include Power Rangers, True, and Dragon Riders. She-Ra he kinda likes but it's a bit old for him still.

I just watched the trailer for the new Monkey Kid cartoons and it looks like it might be better...? Still token female, but definitely an improvement. Spouse says that Avatar is likely to be a hit, so we will try that. Kiddo, looking over my shoulder, has said "I don't want awesome I want silly" in response to me commenting on some of these.

Keep them coming!
posted by EllaEm at 6:10 AM on April 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe the Jackie Chan cartoons? Not sure of the exact age range but seems children friendly.


Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir?

And most definitely Big Hero Six!!
posted by Jacen at 6:19 AM on April 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Little Witch Academia? It's a japanese anime about a school of witches which is available on netflix, and according to commonsense media is about as age-appropriate as ninjago. We only ever watched one episode so I can't vouch for the whole thing, but people seem to like it. It was definitely silly action!
posted by Alex404 at 6:32 AM on April 8, 2021

It’s been a while since I watched it, so don’t know how well it holds up in terms of stereotypes, but American Dragon Jake Long sounds like it could be a perfect fit.
posted by brook horse at 6:34 AM on April 8, 2021

Oh, and I’ve never watched it but hear great things about Samurai Jack. Might be a little too dark though? Like I said, haven’t seen it myself, so would do some research there.
posted by brook horse at 6:41 AM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Powerpuff Girls? Or has that aged poorly?
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:45 AM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Kung Fu Panda is largely respected in asian countries because of how well it reflects their culture, and things they care about.

There's the 3 movies and TV show and more!

It's also punchy, funny, and Jack Black is funny! Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness has 80 episodes.

Here's a post (and there's many more) about why kung fu panda is such a anti-cultural appropriation of ninja stuff - it just does everything right!

And response:
posted by bbqturtle at 6:50 AM on April 8, 2021 [7 favorites]

my 6 year old enjoys she-ra, and miraculous. lots of silly fighting. the former presents greater moral complexity than the latter. recently the child has stumbled onto - and loves - avatar the last airbender; it is probably appropriative notwithstanding metafilter's abiding love for it.
posted by 20 year lurk at 7:40 AM on April 8, 2021

hasten to add: child & parents were impressed by helen, though not too much fighting, and, to a significantly lesser degree, the hollow -- which was probably a bit advanced and menacing for a 6 year old.
posted by 20 year lurk at 7:44 AM on April 8, 2021

Devil's advocate but watching Lego Ninjago is fine--it's better that he associate something like ninjas with a white kiddie fantasy, because no Asian American is going to want to hear about his respect for their noble ninja culture later on in life.
posted by kingdead at 8:33 AM on April 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My son loved lego Ninjago at this age. I hated it. I tried many alternatives, but the more i tried the more he wanted Ninjago back, not least because of the lego merch/Sets and figurines.
It lasted about a year. Then he got into Minecraft, and because they also sell Lego Sets and figurines, he enthusiastically embraced it.

He is now 12 and still into Minecraft (but not lego).
And - this is the Point why i comment - he is acutely embarassed by ever having watched Ninjago. He never referres to it and if i do, he hates it. Once he even claimed He never watched it or played it.
posted by 15L06 at 8:49 AM on April 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Nthing that the Ninjago infatuation lasts about a year, never to be mentioned again afterwards. My kid went on to watch (and love) Miraculous, Avatar and Pokemon. He's into Lego Technic and Lego Minecraft now at 8.
posted by gakiko at 9:15 AM on April 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh, i forgot about Miraculous! Mine also loved it for a while.
posted by 15L06 at 10:23 AM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: just in case you want to look into Avatar more, there's been a lot of conversation in recent years about its mostly-white production. here's a quick piece i found about it.

i loved American Dragon Jake Long and Life and Times of Juniper Lee as a kid, not sure how they'd hold up now.
posted by gaybobbie at 1:49 PM on April 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

In all sincerity: Don't worry about Ninjago. You're overthinking it, he's a kid and your hangups are your own. He'll outgrow it and his obsession with it won't hurt him or anyone else.

But You should definitely check out Miyazaki films, they're awesome.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:13 PM on April 8, 2021

posted by parmanparman at 12:57 AM on April 9, 2021

My Lego-loving kid also loves the Jackie Chan Adventures, which feature a cartoon Jackie Chan and his niece Jade. You have to buy them from Amazon or iTunes but we've watched them a million times. (There was a later cartoon also by Jackie Chan which isn't good; I only recommend the 2000-2005 series.)
posted by hungrytiger at 11:49 AM on April 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I love Samurai Jack, but I wouldn't recommend showing it to a 6-year-old. A lot of grimdark and the violence can be intense (somehow everyone he kills is a robot, but he kills 'em real good).
posted by polecat at 1:36 PM on April 9, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions folks! Kiddo is excited to watch the new Lego Monkey Kid when it comes out in the US.

What this has made me realize, however, is that Asian Americans are really really under-represented in children's media. All the suggestions that feature people of Asian descent are set in Asian countries (with Jackie Chan as the exception). Which is fine... but... Are there really no cartoons in the US featuring Asian American kids doing cliched "American" cartoon things?

We've been pretty focused in the last few years on ensuring kiddo's diet of cartoons and story books include girls and/or African American kids, and (when we can find them) stories centering Latino/a characters. Captain Underpants, Motown Magic, True and the Magic Kingdom, SciFu, Little Robot, Black Panther, Hilda, The Deep...

But now I'm realizing, where are the stories about the lonely Korean-American boy who goes into the forest and finds a robot/alien/monster that becomes his friend? About the Indian-American girl who moves to a new town and discovers something weird is going on but her parents don't believe her? The Japanese-American boy who finds the magic watch/sword/McGuffin that gives him super powers? The Chinese-American kid who, along with a trusty side-kick and/or pet dog, gets up to silly mischief while simultaneously defeating the school bully?

Hello Ninja features a Japanese American family -- but it's about Ninjas. Which are problematic for all the reasons you folks have pointed to.

Ugh. Tbh, its problematic that we didn't even notice the absence. Sigh...
posted by EllaEm at 6:58 AM on April 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

American Dragon Jake Long is set in New York City and is basically exactly what you described! Here’s a preview of what you’d be in for (it includes the theme song and a scene from the pilot episode).
posted by brook horse at 8:09 AM on April 11, 2021

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