It’s true for most people that as you grow older your tastes in film change. At some point you give up the younger faire, generally followed by a waning interest in summer blockbusters and so forth. I definitely fall into that category. As I’ve grown older, I’ve earned the title “indy movie snob” from my friend. That’s mostly accurate, although it doesn’t mean I completely eschew event or mainstream films completely, it just means I’ve become quite selective with how I choose to spend two hours of my copious free time. So, when I was invited to an advance screening of the upcoming film “TMNT,” I reluctantly agreed – clearly I’m not the target audience for this film, nor is it the kind that usually pops up on my radar, but with the trailer piquing my curiosity and the fact it’s comics related, I agreed.
“TMNT” is something of a sequel to the, frankly, inferior live action films that came before. The big bad villain Shredder is no where to be seen with an entirely new antagonist for the turtles to go up against. That’s a good decision by the film makers as it allows “TMNT” a fresh start. But it’s not really the new villain that’s the biggest threat to the turtles, but themselves.
As the movie begins we find the turtles have split up. Master Splinter has sent Leonardo on a world wide training mission and the film begins with Leonardo in Central America, taking on the task of protecting the locals from military goons who terrorize them.
With Leonardo off globe trotting, the rest of the turtles have lost their sense of direction. The brilliant Donatello has been reduced to providing computer technical support; Michelangelo is now a children’s party entertainer, masquerading as the clown-for-hire “Cowabunga Carl” (you can’t say the turtles can’t laugh at themselves); and the hot tempered Raphael has adopted the moniker and look of “The Nightwatcher,” a Batman-esque vigilante tackling crime in the city at night.
Eventually Leonardo makes it back to New York City after running into April O’Neil in Central America, who was sent there to find ancient artifacts for the mysterious tech-industrialist Maxilimillian J. Winters, whom we later learn wants these artifacts to raise an army of monsters for seemingly sinister purposes. When Leonardo returns to New York, that’s when the movie really begins.
The welcome for Leo isn’t an entirely warm one. Michelangelo and Donatello are happy to see their brother back, as is Master Splinter, but Raphael doesn’t share their enthusiasm, feeling Leo abandoned their family at a time of need. With Leo back in the picture and asserting his leadership over the group, this leads to a showdown between Leo and Raph that threatens to split their family forever, but when Leo is captured by Winters’ monsters, the team rallies with the help of April and Casey, whom are now a couple living together.
The story works well, offering up the proper amount of lessons concerning the importance of family, loyalty and responsibility that parents will want to see from a film like this. The theme of respect for those older and wiser than you, in this case Master Splinter, is also present as it has been in all turtle material. And while a relatively simple story overall, it’s not dumbed down to such a level where parents will find themselves nodding off during the film, with the added benefit of fun action sequences that will keep parents engaged as their children enjoy the on screen spectacle.
Possibly the most surprising aspect of the film is its seriousness. The producers of the film specifically went for a less silly style compared to the live-action films, a wise decision in trying to bring this film to a wider audience, but with only two burp jokes and not a single “booger and fart” joke in the mix, I was happily surprised. The overly childish humor of the previous films is absent, with a far more subtle and mature approach than I’ve seen in most films of this sort. While the turtles have their funny moments, as do April and Casey, it’s Master Splinter who has the funniest moment of the film (let’s not spoil that for you, shall we?).
While the humor may be played down, the action is there right from the beginning and the ninja fighting skills of our favorite turtles haven’t diminished after more than a year of not fighting together. There are some fun and exciting sequences that are certain to entertain children and even adults of all ages, with the best sequence being the aforementioned showdown between Leo and Raph. It takes place on a rooftop and is filled with high flying turtle action, sais and swords moving quickly. The close up shorts of each character as they’re talking, with rain drops bouncing off their skin and shells, are very impressive. This is where the CGI really shines.
The final fight sequence of the film is an interesting one, though. It finds the turtles, April, Casey, the Foot Clan, even Master Splinter, and those giant monsters in a massive brawl, but the camera work here is a bit disorienting. At times you’ll see just the turtles with swords flying, but the monster will be featured off screen, obviously in an attempt to ensure the film receives a PG rating. Ultimately the scene works, with the turtles, the Foot Clan (returning from the first films, but with a new boss this time around) and the monsters delivering some fun high kicking action, but the need for a PG rating limits this set piece from delivering to its fullest.
The CGI animation itself is for the most part quite excellent. The city sequences are well crafted, with some beautiful attention to detail. Master Splinter is the most impressively animated character in the film, with wonderfully expressive and detailed features that really come to play in scenes where he counsels his sons Leonardo and Raphael through their various struggles. While there are a few nitpicky moments where the animation falls flat, notably the plane sequence, those are few and far between and the CGI quickly returns to high levels of quality.
The voice work is provided by a wide cast of well known actors, including Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart and Laurence Fishburne. Thankfully, those recognizable voices aren’t distracting, as can often be the case with animated films featuring well known Hollywood talent. Case in point, the distinct voice of Patrick Stewart doesn’t take you out of his character Mr. Winters, as one might expect. The voices do exactly what they’re supposed to – service the characters without taking the audience out of the scene.
While this might not normally be the kind of film I’d go see, I can say with full confidence this is a fun movie and hope they make more. In many ways, it is the definition of a family film – one which the kids and parents can both equally, but obviously for different reasons. If I were a parent with young kids eager to see some high flying turtle acrobatics, I’d happily take them to “TMNT.” With the right amount of life lessons that aren’t shoved down your throat, restrained humor, fight sequences that don’t go too far and an enjoyable story, “TMNT” brings the turtles back in style, allowing an entirely new generation of kids to know the thrill of yelling out, “Cowabunga, Dude.”
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