Today The LEGO Group and the Ninjago team shared a message with the fan community. As many are aware, Kirby Morrow, who provided the voice of Cole since the show's start, passed away last year. This was after the voice acting for the 2021 episodes had been completed, and since then they have been trying to figure out the proper course of action to respect the actor's legacy and allow the series to continue in the best way possible. In the end, they decided that Cole would now be played by Andrew Francis, who is no stranger to the Ninjago team. Read on for the full message from Tommy Andreasen on their thought process and how the choice was made.
Dear Ninjago fans
It's about time we talk about this:
When Kirby was first cast as Cole, it was a matter of finding a voice that fit the character which was written by the Hageman brothers. It wasn't a hard choice to make as Kirby hit everything, we wanted right out of the gate ... maybe he had some guidance from voice director Michael Donovan, and if so, well done Michael!
But what we received to base our casting decision on was just perfect. From then on it became a matter of writing a character that fit the voice. Any animation which has been done on Cole since then has been based on Kirby's performance. He became instrumental to the development of the character, and it quickly became apparent that Kirby's portrayal had a sensibility we had to lean into: The ultimate team. He is the best friend a ninja could ever have and always looks out for his friends and is never hesitant to selflessly give everything he has to help.
On the 18th of November 2020 we were all hit by an earthquake of epic proportions: Kirby Morrow had passed away.
We had concluded the writing and recordings of all episodes of Seabound at that time and were in the process of putting together the storyline for 2022 ... one in which both Cole and several of the other Ninja are absolutely crucial to make a strange and mythical piece of Ninjago math add up. After a few days which can best be described as numb, we started reviewing our options.
This is what we came up with:
- Retire Cole as a character.
- Use existing dialogue from all available Ninjago content since 2011 to keep Kirby's performance in the show.
- Come up with a story reason that Cole wouldn't speak.
Before reading on, try to take a moment to consider: How would you go about? There are a lot of considerations going into a decision like this and given the circumstances, it is a very emotional one. But as we viewed it from all angles, the answer became obvious. Here are the reasons we did what we did and didn't do:
1: Retire Cole as a character.
We would only do this if we could give the character a satisfying end. A 'riding into the sunset' fond goodbye to Cole. This could have been something like Cole finding a higher purpose like becoming the leader of the Upply, go live as an advisor to Queen Vania in Shintaro or the like. Thinking about that gives a nice and fuzzy feeling. Cole would no longer be a part of the story, but the viewers would know he is in a good place. It would be just lovely!
However, given the ending of Seabound there was no way to get to that point. We were almost done in production of that chapter, we couldn't record new dialogue and most importantly: It would betray Cole's character. He is the rock of the team, and he would be there for the others to lighten the burden and relieve the grief.
Also, there is another very important aspect to consider which may not be as apparent:
Kirby Morrow IS Cole, but only in the English version of the show. There are more than 40 differently voiced versions of the show in which other actors giving their all to make Cole a great and lovable character. While Kirby's portrayal as Cole has defined the character, there are a lot of children enjoying the Master of Earth in the rest of the World without ever hearing Kirby's voice. Would we want to deny them the pleasure of Cole's company for reasons they were unaware of? The answer is easy. Retiring Cole in what would be an unceremoniously off-screen departure would betray all the work Kirby has put into crafting him. Robbing the World of Cole would be a selfish act ... and Cole wouldn't approve.
2: Use existing dialogue from all available Ninjago content since 2011 to keep Kirby's performance in the show.
Going through 50+ hours of Ninjago content under those conditions is not an enjoyable time. But at least we tried. It soon became clear that though it COULD be done, it would greatly limit what we could do to make Cole's 2022 contribution to the story appealing. It would be a spreadsheet exercise to make Cole feel present, and ultimately it would feel like a vague and unreliable version of Cole who would get no development. This was an easy pass (though many hours went into figuring out what lines we had to play with).
3: Come up with a story reason that Cole wouldn't speak.
This one was quickly dismissed. Ideas like 'Cole has gone into a catatonic state of depression and does not speak', 'Cole has suffered a hit to the throat' or 'Cole has taken a vow of silence' just didn't fit. Cole is there to help and provide comfort.
And this is the one we went for. Hopefully this choice is obvious given the above. We must remain true to the character Kirby shaped. Cole is crucial in the 2022 story and the World and Ninjago need Cole. So, recasting it was! And a very hard and emotional one at that.
The first thing which stands out in Kirby's work as Cole, is his authoritative hoarse voice. This is a guy you can trust. But it is the compassion in his interaction with other characters which really makes him come to life and become a real person. And then in action scenes you have a wild fluctuation between courage and controlled panic. We needed an actor which could pull that off but equally important: We needed an actor who would apply himself to the role and be comfortable doing it. Though we were looking for the likeness of the Cole voice we know and love, we were not looking for an imitation. We wanted a sincere and real performance from an actor who would give his own unique approach and talents to Cole.
Please welcome Andrew Francis!
Andrew is already a long-time member of the Ninjago voice cast and has portrayed colourful and memorable characters like Shade, Beta Jay 137 and the Master of Wind himself, Morro.
We hope you will greet and support Andrew and welcome him with open arms and a hearty NIINJAAAAA-GO! We are confident we made the best possible choice and the voice recordings for 2022 has crystalized our faith completely in Andrew as a worthy successor to Kirby. You will hear Andrew Francis's first performances as Cole in a series of short films in early 2022.
On behalf of the Ninjago Team