Director: Kevin Munroe
Cast: The voices of James Arnold Taylor, Nolan North, Mitchell Whitfield, Mikey Kelley, Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Patrick Stewart, Ziyi Zhang, Laurence Fishburne
MPAA Rating: (for animated action violence, some scary cartoon images and mild language)
Running Time: 1:27
Release Date: 3/23/07
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Review by Mark Dujsik
As a child of the '80s, TMNT brings back fond memories of weekday afternoons and action figures. I am no longer a kid, though, and this movie serves a reminder. Our tastes (hopefully) evolve; that which was so dear to our heart fades into memory. Call this an elegy to highly effective marketing. After all, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (as the shorthand title stands for, in case you're not in the loop), in all their mutated ninja glory, were little more than a huge marketing boom, bringing on a cartoon, playsets, a cereal, and three big-screen features. And they probably didn't hurt the profits of frozen pizza and pizza franchise companies either. There was nothing about these superheroes that would give them lasting value, like the ones they never stopped making movies about. Apparently the fad is back, and instead of live-action costumed Turtles, they're in a fully computer animated feature. The return of the Turtles somewhat eases my feelings of being outdated but doesn't mean much more than nostalgia. On that level, the movie works, in that I had a slight grin on my face throughout, but even though the Turtles weren't necessarily bad for me as I kid, that doesn't mean they were much good either.
The movie opens with the Turtles jumping the roofs of New York City, and Laurence Fishburne's voice catches all the adults up: four turtles, four brothers, trained as ninjas. After that, he tells of a great warrior, who 3,000 years ago discovered that when the stars of a certain constellation align a portal to another dimension opens. He took advantage of this, turning himself immortal, his men into statutes, and unleashing 13 monsters that 3,000 years later somehow all manage to be located in the Big Apple. Back in present day Central America, the Turtles' leader Leonardo (voice of James Arnold Taylor) fights crime in the jungle as he trains to become a better leader. His old friend April O'Neil (voice of Sarah Michelle Gellar) happens to be there too and tells him about his brothers. Donatello (voice of Mitchell Whitfield) is a telephone IT support guy, er, thing. Michelangelo (voice of Mikey Kelley) does children's parties dressed in a turtle costume. Raphael (voice of Nolan North) fights crime at night in a metal suit. Meanwhile, a rich tycoon named Winters (voice of Patrick Stewart) is attempting to gather the statues of the warriors and the monsters before the portal opens again.
Winters, obviously, is the warrior of old (I'm sure Patrick Stewart, who should really do more voice work, got a laugh out of his animated counterpart's burly stature), trying to reunite his brotherhood. Leonardo, it seems, returns just in time to get his brothers together to fight the onslaught of evil that's about to be unleashed—or, better, has somehow been roaming around basically undetected for three millennia. After answering how a human-sized, mutant turtle can travel to another country, the movie picks up with the kind of problems that always seem to plague the Turtles. Raphael is mad, wants to be on his own, and eventually quits—again. He complains to Leonardo about his absence, "Crime never took a break. You did." Their mutated sewer rat of a sensei Splinter (voice of Mako) tries to get them to put aside the bickering, straighten up and fly right, and work as a team. Monsters appear; the Turtles fight them. Foot soldiers (appropriately called "The Foot") of their deceased nemesis Shredder arrive; the Turtles fight them. I'm not surprised I liked this stuff as a kid, but boy, how on earth was I so involved with four heroes so interchangeable the only way to tell them apart is by the colors of their masks?
If you don't know Raphael wears red and fights with sai while Donatello wears purple and prefers a bo, you're not going to know by the end of the movie either. Subtitles flash across the screen with each of the heroes' names upon their first introduction, but it hardly matters when the fighting starts because the movie pays little attention to the fights. Oh, there's lots of anonymous wisecracking, and monsters and foot soldiers fly around and crash through the floors of a building under construction. The action sequences are done with little panache, though, and writer/director Kevin Munroe seems more concerned to get them over and done with than to try to find fun within them. There's something amusing about immortal warriors made of stone (one seems to cancel out the need for the other), and the monsters are pretty much disposed of in a quick montage (save for one amusing fight with a gremlin-like monster). That leaves us with the Turtles themselves, which don't seem to have any of the archetypal underpinnings we expect heroes to have. They're brothers, and they fight a lot. Except when they fight, it's on top of a roof in the pouring rain with deadly weapons.
That is, admittedly, a pretty decent fight with some darker undertones to it, but where is that kind of care in the rest of the movie? Sure, TMNT looks good, with its overly cartoonish characters and grungy depiction of NYC, but it's hollow to the core. But that's how the Turtles have always been, and I think my afternoons with the heroes in a half-shell in my heart are over.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.