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"Gone are the cartoon-ish colors, the slapstick humor, and the rubber suits."
"Exhibits a tone and color as dark and illusive as a ninja at night."
"Never strays too far from its inner turtle."
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  

Cast

Leonardo: James Taylor INTERVIEW
Raphael: Nolan North
Donatello: Mitchell Whitfield INTERVIEW
Michelangelo: Mikey Kelley
Master Splinter: Mako
Max Winters: Patrick Stewart
April O'Neil: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Casey Jones: Chris Evans
Review March 2007

Cowabunga, dude! It's been a long 14 years since we last saw the Turtles on the big screen. And what better way to re-invigorate the franchise than with a CGI adventure? Picking up where the live action sequels left off, this animated version of "TMNT" shows the Turtles in an utterly different light. For, the Turtles have given up crime fighting and gone their separate ways after the defeat of their archenemy, The Shredder. Which, of course, leaves the door wide open for an army of ancient and mythical creatures to take over the world! Or is it possible the Turtles can look past their differences and re-unite in the nick of time? Unlike its live action predecessors, this "TMNT" utilizes CGI, a magnificent move that brings the characters to life, making the action more fluid, and the fantasy more acceptable. Gone are the cartoon-ish colors, the slapstick humor, and the rubber suits. As well as the "Ninja Rap" by Vanilla Ice. Because in this updated version, writer/director Kevin Munroe properly aligns with the comic. A darker, more sophisticated outing that retains the kid friendly appeal, all the while staying true to the Turtles' native habitat.

The film picks up in the years following The Shredder's defeat. Most noticeably, the Turtles have grown apart as a family. Leonardo has been honing his leadership skills in a remote jungle for the last several years, Donatello has been working in technical support, and Michelangelo has been parading around at birthday parties as Cowabunga Carl. In fact, the only one who has continued fighting crime has been Raphael, stalking the streets as a masked vigilante known as The Nightwatcher. Recently, however, there have been strange events taking place in New York. Specifically, an army of ancient creatures has begun to plague the city, followed by the appearance of mythical beings named the "Stone Generals."

Recognizing the need for Turtle power, Master Splinter tries to re-unite the family. April O'Neil, one of the Turtle's biggest allies, stumbles upon Leonardo. And her boyfriend, Casey Jones, has a confrontation with The Nightwatcher. More urgently, it would seem that an industrialist named Max Winters is responsible for opening a portal to another world, allowing the Stone Generals to appear and do his bidding. Likewise, the Foot Clan of ninja warriors also appears to be aligned with the dastardly plot. But in the sewers, tempers start to flair. As Leonardo returns, a brotherly rivalry heats up between he and Raphael, intensely interrupting their teamwork and leading to an ultimate showdown. A showdown with significant consequences. For, the Turtles' only hope is to put their differences aside and learn to fight as one. Until then, the world doesn't stand a chance.

The first issue of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" premiered in May 1984, the brainchild of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Following the lives of four turtle mutants and their rat sensei, Master Splinter, the comic depicted superhero battles against ninja warriors, secret societies, and alien invaders. And with quirky and exaggerated characters, the Turtles' initial print run of 3,000 oversized issues sold out and became an instant collector's item. Eventually, "TMNT" would go on to sell more copies than any other independently published comic book. And its success would lead to feature films, animated series, additional comic lines, and a special licensing agreement with Playmates Toys, spawning action figures and other varieties of children's merchandise. And thereby cementing its place atop pop culture lore.

Oddly enough, what makes this "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" different from any of the previous films in the franchise is its depiction via CGI. And it's precisely the avenue these characters should be in, allowing audiences to easily suspend their beliefs without getting hung up on the artificial limitations of a real world, i.e. humans in rubber suits. It's a trap that many comic book adaptations fall prey to early on. Because some comics lend themselves very well to live-action, a la Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, etc., where the characters are themselves human and exhibit humanistic qualities. However, when you are dealing with bipedal turtle ninjas who have a father that is an oversized rat and who live in the sewers eating pizza and fighting mythical creatures, it can be quite a stretch for live-action.

Here, the CGI look and feel are a perfect match. And by perfect, one only glimpse the battle sequence between Leonardo and Raphael in the rain on the rooftop to know what I'm talking about. Rain fall, irregular drips, and splatter caused by running, jumping, and landing. It's a magnificent display. And overall, the film quality exhibits a tone and color as dark and illusive as a ninja at night without impacting the crispness of the images. Images that are round, smooth, and clean in every detail.

As a whole, the film works on all cylinders except for one - the pacing of an overly complex story. In particular, the dissemination of the plot as narrated by Laurence Fishburne. At the beginning, there's an ancient mythology consisting of conquered kingdoms, immortality, a curse, a portal, mythological creatures, and powerful allies - too much detail to throw in at the beginning of a superhero movie, when the movie is supposed to be about the superheroes. And because of the slow start and because of the sheer number of characters involved, any hopes for in depth character development is lost. For instance, there's good tension between Leonardo and Raphael, but Donatello and Michelangelo lose time to Max, April, Casey, the Foot Clan, the Stone Generals, etc. It's a common occurrence in franchise films, whereby each subsequent feature attempts to outdo the previous ones rather than stripping things down to their simplest form.

And while "TMNT" is not the best animated superhero film to date, it is by far, the best Turtles movie in the franchise. The simple reason is a back to basics approach. Director Kevin Munroe's decision to update the franchise with CGI is a refreshing change. As is the decision to take the subject matter more seriously, focusing more on the Turtles' internal struggles than their typical battles on rooftops, alleyways, and sewers. Although there is a little of that too. Fans of the comic should be pleased as will the younger cartoon crowd. Because even though the film has a tendency to try and do too much, it never strays too far from its inner turtle.



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