Thursday, August 7, 2014
Recent Watches: TMNT (2007)
Despite dominating the kid pop culture sphere during the early nineties, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seemed to vanish around the middle of the decade. Yet the World’s Most Fearsome Fighting Team never truly went away. The cartoon series ran until 1996, for an astonishing total of ten years. The comic was published in one form or another for most of the decade. A new cartoon launched in 2003, ran for seven years, but failed to capture the public’s imagination the way the original did. There was even a misbegotten live-action television series, though I'll forgive you for forgetting it. A new theatrical film was rumored for a long time, at one point taking the form of a CGI/live action combo directed by John Woo. However, a new movie didn’t solidify until animation studio Imagi decided to make a computer animated feature, titled simply “TMNT.”
Though sold as a reboot, “TMNT” is actually a stealth sequel to the previous films. At the story’s onset, the Turtles are in crisis. Leonardo has spent the last few years in South America, helping out locals in need. Back home, Raphael has assumed the identity of a vigilante called the Night Watcher. Donatello, meanwhile, works tech support while Michelangelo is a kid’s party entertainer. April O’Neil and Casey Jones have shacked up together. A plot involving the Foot Clan and an eccentric millionaire collecting ancient statues draws the Turtles back together.
The problem is that “TMNT” was not animated by a major studio with a limitless budget. I’m not saying it’s a bad looking film. Light and rain water are utilized well. The animation on the main characters is generally good. However, a number of sequences feel too much like video game cut scenes. The models are occasionally weightless and the backgrounds can be flat. The designs for the Turtles and Splinter are neat but the human characters are uninspired and generic. It’s obvious the animators did the best they could with what they had. But this is not Pixar quality. At times, it’s not even DreamWorks quality.
Karai, whom comic readers know as the Shredder’s eventual successor. Bringing in Karai is a natural decision, especially if this film is meant to follow the nineties films. But the rest of the plot? I nearly fell asleep typing that out. The plot is a generic fantasy quest with about three MacGuffins too many. The runtime is packed full of unique characters so there would be plenty of toy opportunities.
However, the bland storyline almost doesn’t matter. “TMNT” gets the important stuff right. Leonardo’s self-doubt over his leadership skills has caused him to flee New York. Attempting to put the team back together is his primary struggle throughout the film. While the other brothers have tried to live professional lives, Raphael has never given up fighting crime. The rivalry between Leo and Raph is something every version of the series has touched on. However, for the first time, the two actually come to blows. Twenty years of anticipation pays off as the two strongest turtles fight on-screen. And it’s glorious. Not only is the fight easily the best moment in the film, it’s also full of feeling. Leo says some hurtful things as emotions boil over. Raph lets his anger take control, beating his brother into submission. Until he realizes what he has done, fleeing the scene, fighting back tears. Upon returning home, Raphael throws himself on Splinter’s mercy. As always, he is the forgiving father. The brotherly bond, and a willingness to forgive, has been at this franchise’s heart from the beginning. “TMNT” stays true to that tradition why moving into unseen territory.
Okay, you could say that Donnie and Mikey get shafted. Like they always do. I miss April’s day job as a reporter. Oh, and the pop-punk filled soundtrack is atrocious. The plot may be nonsense. Yet “TMNT” is a solid addition to the series. The Turtles act as they should, Splinter gets to kick some ass, and the film still packs in some honest emotion. I like the film enough that I’m still disappointed that if failed to reignite Turtle Fever. Though successful, the teased sequel never came to be and Imagi shut down only a few years later. It’s a good start and could have led to great things. [7/10]