Tuesday, March 27, 2007
On Saturday I decided to indulge my inner child even further and go see TMNT (short for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for those not in the know). TMNT is the fourth film in the series, the first to be released since 1993, and also the first to be entirely computer animated.
Aside from sitting in a theatre filled with screaming 5-year-olds (which I was) and reliving my own childhood, I didn't expect too much. What did I get? One damned entertaining film.
TMNT is a darker, more grown up version of the Turtles than I remember from the before time, the long-long ago. While there were certainly cheesy jokes every now and again, the film's focus was not on retro '80's humour and it clearly shows.
Like the previous films, TMNT is based off of the comics and not the '80's cartoon that I knew and loved. With their defeat of Shredder at the end of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (TMNT thankfully makes no reference to the junk that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III), the Turtles have begun to grow apart. Splinter (Mako) has sent Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) to the South American rain forest to hone his leadership abilities, however his absence leaves a lack of focus in the rest of the team.
Meanwhile, April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has been contracted by powerful tech-industrialist Max Winters (Patrick Stewart), to locate various Aztec-like statues for him which tie into his greater diabolical plan. Winters has formed an alliance with the Foot Clan, now lead by the mysterious Karai (Ziyi Zhang), and together they are amassing a small army of ancient monsters that have conveniently congregated in New York City. Casey Jones (Chris Evans) is also back and along for the ride as April's boyfriend and delivery man, and its certainly fun to watch him make stuff go smash.
While TMNT certainly won't win any awards over it's plot, it does have something that really surprised me for a Turtle film: dramatic tension.
The real focus of the story is the reconciliation and reformation of the Turtles as a team, and the character interactions, particularly the rivalry between Leonardo and Raphael (Nolan North) are well done. It is suitably comic book styled, dark, and in its own way touching. This form of storytelling also lends itself well to the great CG animation.
Though it was cool as a kid seeing live action Turtles in the previous films, CG has allowed the film makers to perform choreography while providing the film with an interesting visual style that would not have been possible with the puppet suits of 15 years ago. The Turtles, Foot Soldiers, monsters, etc. all move and fight with a gritty but slightly exaggerated form that I simply found entertaining. Being a darker rendition of the Turtles, the film is also more violent than the previous movies, but still within a PG, kid-friendly rating.
In the end, TMNT does justice to the heroes in the half shell. The film is only about an hour and fifteen minutes long, and it feels like a long television episode, however that's not a bad thing. If you weren't a fan of the Turtles as a kid and/or aren't big on CG, than you'll want to give it a pass, but otherwise, this is fresh, nostalgia gold. It's a new take on an old franchise, one that's grown with the times and provides a simple yet entertaining look at an odd familial bond. Oh, and Splinter likes watching Gilmore Girls. Yup, its like that.