Starring: Patrick Stewart, Sarah
Michelle Gellar, Chris Evans, Zhang Ziyi
Director: Kevin Munroe
Anyone under the age of 35 remembers the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” like it was yesterday. The animated series – which debuted in 1987 and ran for ten years – spawned three live-action films, a successful video game franchise, thousands of toys, and even a live concert tour before the marketing blitz fizzled out sometime in the late ‘90s. The franchise received a much-deserved reboot only a few years later, however, in the shape of a new animated series that more closely resembled the Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird comic book on which the original cartoon was loosely based. It was also only a matter of time before Hollywood got to thinking about bringing everyone’s favorite heroes in a half shell back to the big screen, and while many probably weren't expecting it to be as an animated film, "TMNT" might just be the Turtle's best adventure yet.
Presumably taking place after the events of the first three films – with Splinter successfully defeated – the Turtles have all gone their separate ways. Leonardo has traveled to Central America at the advice of Master Shredder (Mako) to continue his training; Donatello has taken a job as a tech support operator; Michelangelo works as a children’s party mascot; and Raphael continues to fight crime as a masked vigilante known as The Nightwatcher. Even April O’Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones (Chris Evans) are taking it easy these days, but when tech-industrialist Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) joins forces with Karai (Zhang Ziyi) – the new leader of the Foot Clan – and begins unleashing havoc on the city, the Turtles are called back into action.
First thing’s first: these CG Turtles look amazing. Forget about the cute and cuddly Turtles from the Saturday morning cartoon (or even the rubbery, Jim Henson-created ones from the live-action films) – this is how the Turtles were always intended to look. And while they still bear the trademark color-coded masks that were first implemented in the 1987 animated series, their overall appearance is far grittier than usual. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the human characters, who hardly match the highly stylized look of the Turtles. It’s probably a good thing, then, that the studio enlisted the voices of A-list talent like Gellar and Stewart to help inject a little more life into the Turtle's human compatriots, because they're a little too cartoony.
Regrettably, not all of the Turtles get equal screen time. Following in the footsteps of the first film, Raphael is once again the main focal point of the story (with Leonardo given ample screen time as the yin to Raphael’s yang), while Michelangelo and Donatello are relegated to playing secondary roles. Still, despite these minor issues, the film will hardly disappoint long-time fans. The story is a lot darker this time around and is even relatively complex – perhaps too complex for kids – while the same silly humor that has been a mainstay of the cartoon since its debut remains intact. The end result is a movie that may be a little too mature for small children, and too silly for adults, but is perfect for teenage boys and twentysomething males who grew up watching the Turtles on television, eating their branded cereal for breakfast, wearing their clothes to school, and dressing up as them for Halloween. Cowabunga indeed.
Though considerably messy in its presentation, the special features on the single-disc release of “TMNT” far exceeded my expectations. Highlighted by an audio commentary with writer/director Kevin Munroe, the DVD includes an alternate opening and ending, four deleted/extended scenes (some of which only feature early storyboards or CG), side-by-side storyboard comparisons, early CG tests of the Rough House Fight, and a look at constructing the CG models for the film. Rounding out the disc is an online sizzle reel and a short collection of interviews with the voice talent.