March 25, 2007

Movie Review: TMNT

I was a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they first appeared back in the 1980's, and that carried through to the first live action film in 1990. Shortly thereafter, I grew out of the turtle phase and left such things behind me. I have now come full circle and have a growing nostalgia for such things from my youth. With the nostalgia kick, I was intrigued when I first learned of a new animated film, wary, but intrigued. The wariness was immediately eradicated when I saw the first teaser trailer showing the mean green machine in full computer generated glory, sprinting and jumping across the rooftops. Yes, that is what I'm talking about. I am happy to report that the movie lives up to the promise of the trailer and delivers what may be the best incarnation of everyone's favorite shell wearing ninja brothers yet.

OK, now I am sure that most of you have at least the slightest idea of the Turtle's story. Here's a quick recap, which I know has changed over they years, but the general gist is that four turtles were dumped in the sewers where they came into contact with some radioactive ooze that mutated them into humanoid form turtles. Along with the foursome, a rat also was mutated. The rat, named Splinter knows the ways of the ninja, taught them to the turtles and the fought crime. Great story, huh? Well, they had a nemesis named Shredder, whom was defeated in the 1990 film.

The story picks up after the first live action film, let's just forget the other two never happened. Following the defeat of Shredder, it seems that the team dynamic changed. Splinter sent Leonardo away to learn to be a better leader. During that time, the team split up, wach of the remaining brothers doing their own thing. But, trouble is brewing, and the promise of danger brings the four back together. Yes, there is another but, before they are able to face the oncoming threat, they must first learn ot deal with each other.

A big part of the story centers on the strained relationship between Leonardo and Raphael. This story is great, but pushes Michaelangelo and Donatello to considerably smaller supporting roles, something I assume will change should there be a sequel. Raph is something of a hothead, not happy with Leo's departure, and decides to take things into his own hands. Now that Leo is back, Raph is even less happy now that his brother has returned. It is an interesting dynamic that plays out, but there is the bigger story that they are all forced to deal with.

There is an ancient, immortal warrior who unwittingly let a number of ghastly beasties loose upon the earth, while his generals were turned into beastly stone statues. It just so happens everything is converging on New York, the warrior goes by the name Winter, and he has just bought the statues and is intent on bringing his men back and recapturing said beasties. It is up to the turtle foursome, along with April O'Neil and Casey Jones to get their act together and get to the bottom of the creature activity. Oh yes, the Foot Clan are still around too.

TMNT is a rather big departure from the prior popularized incarnations, and probably closer to the original underground comic book version. It strips away the straight up comedy and goofiness that infected the cartoon, taking a darker and grittier turn. It would be something akin to the difference between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins, that is to say it is a fantastic change. It has its share of comedy, but it has a more serious tone that doesn't give away all the fun. The action is high, and there are a couple of great fights, this is what was promised in those other incarnations, finally brought to realization.

Director Kevin Munroe did a great job of realizing this incarnation. The animation looks great, perhaps not to the level of Pixar, but the look is spot on, from the gritty look ofo the city to the nice looking skin tones. It is a world realized very well, very fitting for the new look turtles.

Is it perfect? No, but it is a lot closer to it than I ever would have expected. It would have been nice to have some more surrounding information, maybe some news reports, or anything to imply that the scope was larger than is pictured. Perhaps, an additional 15 minutes to flesh it all out. Still, I have a hard time complaining as I had an absolute blast watching it.

I was interested to find that there were a number of celebrities who lent their voices. Among those stars was Mako, who died during the production last year making this his last big screen appearance having voiced Master Splinter. Other stars include Sarah Michelle Gellar as April O'Neil, Chris Evans as Casey Jones, Patrick Stewart as Winter, Zhang Ziyi as Karai, and Kevin Smith as Diner.

Bottomline. This was so much fun! The action was great, the animation was great, the story was good. It turned out to be so much more than I had expected. I can only hope that it does well enough to generate a sequel to expand on this new universe.

Highly Recommended.


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