The heroes in a half-shell return in 'TMNT'

The boys in green: Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello return to the big-screen in "TMNT."

**** out of *****

There are three things that I closely associate with my childhood. The first is Star Wars, which I still consider today to be the greatest film trilogy of all time. The second is Transformers, which will be horribly defaced in about three months by one Michael Bay. The third, and possibly most dear to me, is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The cartoon, the line of action figures, the bed sheets … the turtles dominated my young years with their grinning resin faces and plastic ninja weaponry.

So, naturally, I was very intrigued at the prospect of a new Turtles flick.

This new film, entitled “TMNT,” picks up roughly a year after Shredder’s defeat and finds the Turtles drifting aimlessly. Leonardo (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) tirelessly trains in Central America, leaving the brothers to fend for themselves back in New York. Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) passes the time by performing at birthday parties, while Donatello (Mitchell Witfield) spends his days as a 24-hour tech-service-rep. The short-tempered Raphael (Nolan North) becomes disgruntled in lieu of Leo’s extended absence and takes to roaming the New York streets as a dark vigilante called Night Watcher.

Strange happenings force the Turtles’ sensei, Master Splinter (Mako) to reunite the amphibious ninjas under shaky pretenses. It seems that industrial tycoon Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) has enlisted the aid of four ancient warriors, along with the ninjas of the Foot Clan, to retrieve a slew of ancient monsters in preparation for an archaic ritual. It’s up to the Turtles, and their allies Casey Jones (Chris Evans) and April O’Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar), to disrupt the ritual and uncover the secrets of the legend.

Though I would have greatly enjoyed a darker, more violent take on the Turtles mythology (as this film was rumored to be in its beginnings), I enjoyed a movie in the same vein as the cartoons and live-action films of my youth. The film is definitely geared towards a younger audience, and is marketed as such, but don’t let the advertisements fool you – “TMNT” is a treat for Turtles fans young and old. There’s plenty of gags and cool visuals for the kids, and a surprisingly compelling dramatic aspect for lifelong Turtles fans.

The brewing tension between Leo and Raph delivers my favorite dynamic of the film. I’ve always found the relationship between the hot-headed Raphael and the cool-tempered Leonardo to be the most interesting, and it was fantastic to see it play out on the screen, climaxing in a physical quarrel between the two brothers, in which they square-off in the rain atop a New York rooftop. The animation of the film reaches it high point in this scene as well, with rain, lightning and thunder amping up the tension tenfold.

The visual style of “TMNT” is just fantastic; truly some of the best animation I’ve seen in a CG film. Its surprisingly detailed – the armor of the Foot Clan Ninjas is dented and scratched, for instance – without straying too far from its cartoon roots. It’s slick, stylish and a real joy to watch. The animation is smoothly rendered as well. The Turtles move with the fluid grace of true ninjas, hopping from rooftop to rooftop, propelling themselves from the shoulders of unsuspecting Foot Clan, wielding their weapons with a deftness I could only imagine as a kid.

The voice-work is really top-notch as well, and some of the best talent in the film comes not from A-listers Patrick Stewart or Sarah Michelle Gellar, but from the likes of James Arnold Taylor and Nolan North (who does a fantastic job with Raph’s New York dialect). These are truly the heroes I remember so fondly from my childhood, brought to vivid life.

Far-fetched plot and a few corny bits aside, “TMNT” delivers in every respect and satisfies even the most hardened of Turtles fans (who are still reeling from the disaster that was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III” – you know, the crappy one where they travel back to feudal Japan). The ending hints at a sequel, and I’m all in favor.

Cowabunga. Cowabunga indeed, my friends.

1 comment:

  1. Turtles in a half shell.
    Turtle Power!
    totally agree with you on our amphibious friends, Matt, I mean, I even watch the lame cartoon on Saturday mornings (when I'm awake).
    I should send you some of the old turtle stuff I have.


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