Monday, April 09, 2007


TMNT (Kevin Munroe, 2007)

There's trouble in the sewer among the crime-fighting, pizza-loving turtles in the CGI-animated TMNT. With their nemesis The Shredder no longer on the scene, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, four brothers named after Renaissance painters, are no longer busy keeping Manhattan safe.

Leonardo, the leader of the group, has been sent to Central America to improve his skills managing his brothers' talents and temperaments. With Leonardo away, the other turtles do their own things. Donatello spends his days on the phone as tech support. Michelangelo is a children's party entertainer in a turtle costume. Raphael, on the other hand, patrols the streets as the vigilante dubbed The Nightwatcher.

Meanwhile, wealthy industrialist Max Winters (voiced by Patrick Stewart) hires TMNT pal April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to retrieve several statues known as The Generals. He also employs the remaining members of The Foot Clan to catch thirteen monsters that were unleashed 3000 years ago. Leonardo returns home when it becomes apparent that these developments could put the Turtles' hometown at risk.

With three iterations of the animated TV series, three live-action feature films, and comic books loaded with Turtles lore, TMNT'S makers feel no need to retell the origin story. Why bother? The abbreviated title makes it unlikely that anyone outside the hardcore fanbase will wander into the theater. A cursory description of who they are and what they do addresses the basic questions any newbies might have.

While the animation was done faster and cheaper than is par for the course on most major studio efforts, TMNT looks pretty good, especially when compared to quick and lousy jobs like HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER. The dank sewers and darkened cityscape create a thrilling atmosphere. The nighttime setting is convenient for skimping on background detail, but the animators do a solid job of evoking the environments.

CGI is a better match for the Turtles themselves. Free from physical limitations in live-action, the characters move and react more expressively. TMNT boasts two rousing fight scenes--one between Leonardo and Raphael and another with the whole gang attacking the army of villains--that would have been less fluid if the Turtles were guys in foam suits. A nice sewer skateboarding sequence probably would have been done in a computer anyway, so it makes sense to do the whole film in that manner.

It's best not to let the mythological gobbledygook about an immortal warrior and planet alignment opening another dimension get in the way of the simple pleasures of these wise-cracking, bone-crunching ninja reptiles. The action is fast and furious, perhaps too much so for younger viewers, and the Turtles are fun, if difficult to differentiate. (It doesn't help that Leonardo and Raphael bogart most of the screen time, leaving Michelangelo and Donatello lost in the shuffle.) TMNT amounts to no more than an extended episode of a television cartoon, but this new adventure gets in enough laughs and action to make it worth fans coming out with their shells on to see it.

Grade: B-

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