Words of Questionable Wisdom: TMNT Movie Reviewâ€¦
By Paul Sebert
Hard as it may seem to believe but it’s been more than 13 years since the last time the Ninja Turtles have graced the silver screen. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been the Madonna of children’s television properties, always remaking themselves to stay in the limelight. Sure there have been a few missteps along the way like the awful â€œThe Next Mutationâ€ live-action television series, but it’s hard to imagine a time in the past 20 years when there wasn’t some manner of Ninja Turtles toy merchandise on the shelves. A few years ago an elaborate update of Master of the Universe was launched to great praise among nostalgic 80s cartoon fans, but failed to catch with kids on as no one under the age of 20 knew who He-Man was. The new TMNT cartoon which debuted the same years succeeded perhaps because the turtles never really vanished, their popularity waxing and waning, but never quite fading out of the pop culture lexicon.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first burst onto the scene in a 1984 black and white comic by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird mercilessly parodying Frank Miller back when Miller was the guy everyone else was trying to be. Eastman and Laird ended up inspiring a vast boom of independent black & white comic creators in the 80s. Three years later TMNT was turned into an animated series which would become of the biggest merchandising franchises of the 80s. The show lasted a grand total of 193 episodes finally coming to an end in 1996. Once again Eastman and Laird’s success would be often imitated, but never duplicated as toy stores would be littered for years with unsuccessful imitators like â€œWild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesaâ€ and â€œStone Protectors.â€ Even Marvel tried their bit to cash in on their success by helping to launch â€œBiker Mice From Marsâ€ one of the more successful imitators.
It’s exactly to put a finger on why the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon was such a phenomenon at the time. It wasn’t the best animated show from the period, nor the best written but there was a wry self-awareness that wasn’t present in other action adventure cartoons at the time. The Ninja Turtles didn’t try apologetically try to shoe-horn in lesson onto their adventures like He-Man did or aggressively hammer home the same lesson over and over again like Captain Planet. The Turtles just existed simply to provide easily digested half-hour sized chunks of entertainment to children while selling some really cool toys along the way and they knew it. The turtles seemed to openly scoff at the puritanical busy-bodies who were always trying to clean up children’s television.
The show felt extremely awkward during the last two seasons. In 1994 as CBS was losing ratings to competition like Batman: The Animated series and the X-Men the show was retooled. Gone was the infectious theme song, replaced by a slower techno version. Shredder was pushed to the side-lines for a more serious villain named Lord Dregg and the show was given a darker more menacing coloring scheme. The change reeked of desperation and the show came to an end in 1996.
The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, simply called â€œTMNTâ€ is not based on the cartoon from my youth, nor the three live action films produced by Jim Henson’s creature shop. Instead it’s based on the new animated series that debuted in 2003 and owes more in style to Samurai Jack and the Mirage comics in terms of plot than the original cartoon. Taking place after the shows’ fourth season, the Turtles have finally once and for all defeated Shredder. The prelude of the movie tales the tale of an ancient warlord who once opened a portal to another dimension in an attempt to become immortal, only to unleash thirteen monsters upon the earth and turn his four siblings into statues. We cut forward to the present day where our four heroes are actually going through something of an existential crisis of sorts. Leonardo is off in South America trying to discover himself. Michelangelo and Donatello have actually found *gasp* jobs?! (though the nature of these careers is a little too funny to give away.) Raphael meanwhile still hasn’t given up the vigilante lifestyle and is now running around behind his brother’s back in an a All-Star Batmanâ€-esc alter-ego. (Perhaps Eastman and Laird still have it out for Frank Miller after all of these years.) Hard as it may seem to believe, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles actually seem to be going through a post-adolescent existential crisis. April and Casey Jones meanwhile (two of the best characters in the current cartoon series)
The main plot revolves around a billionaire named Max Winters (voiced by Patrick Stewart) who is trying for gather four statues plus a baker’s dozen monsters. Could this have something to do with the cryptic opening sequence? Winters has hired the Turtles’ enemies the Footclan, now led by a woman named Kairi. The Footclan seems to be going through crisis on their own. Once a world-dominating threat, they have now been reduced to honorable ninjas for hire, fighting against and alongside the Ninja Turtles as the plot requires them too. The bulk of actual movie actually revolves around a serious case of sibling rivalry between Leonardo and Raphael that eventually reaches a boiling point culminating in an epic slugfest that actually had me cringing a bit.
The CGI art design for the new TMNT is both loyal to the current television cartoon and fairly unique compared to most computer animated fare in theaters now. The characters move fairly well but there’s no way anyone is going to mistake the quality of animation for that of the latest Pixar film. The fight scenes are exciting but sometimes poorly choreographed. The monsters are kind of cool but seem to go down way too easily. Despite a PG rating the film’s probably a little too scary for smaller children.
So was I entertained by this new take on the Turtles? Yes for the most part. To be honest I found the Turtles rather disjointed relationship at the beginning of the movie to be a lot more interesting than the whole ordeal involving the billionaire, living statues, and a portal to another dimension. A part of me wonders if it’s time to finally drop the â€œTâ€ from the title and actually let the turtles grow up a bit. Meanwhile another part of me was longing for the lighter more whimsical turtles of my youth. Sure Michelangelo is the same Mikey we know and love, but I can’t help but think that the turtles of old would probably had a few laughs at the expense at the ulra-serious Leonardo and Raphael. So whether you’re a diehard fan of the current television incarnation of the turtles, or a nostalgic 80s survivor like myself there’s plenty worse ways to spend an afternoon matinee than at TMNT.