After spending a year in Central America, Leonardo (voiced by James Arnold Taylor), the de facto leader of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, returns to Manhattan. His sensei and surrogate father, Master Splinter (Mako), welcomes him back with open arms. Leonardo’s temperamental brother, Raphael (Nolan North), isn’t as happy to see Leonardo back. While Leonardo’s been gone, Raphael has patrolled Manhattan every night as a masked vigilante, the Nightwatcher. Leonardo’s other brothers, Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) and Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley), respond more positively. Donatello works in the entertainment industry (i.e., children’s parties) as “Cowabunga Carl,” while Michelangelo, provides tech support from the comfort of their home in the sewers of New York. Leonardo’s old friends-turned-romantic-couple, April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones (Chris Evans), are also happy to see him back.
April and Casey own a business together transporting antiques and archeological objects for wealthy clients. One of their clients, Max Winters (Patrick Stewart), a billionaire industrialist, has hired April to find and bring back stone warriors from Central America. Successful, April leaves her client content with his cargo. Winters, however, has hired Karai (Ziyi Zhang), the new leader of the Foot Clan, the turtles’ sworn enemies, to find 13 monsters that have run amok in the city. It’s not long before the bickering Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have to confront the monsters, the Foot Clan, Max Winters and his nefarious plan for something or other, and the stone warriors.
For the storyline, writer/director Kevin Munroe mixes familiar and new elements. TMNT lifts familiar plot elements from Ghostbusters (dimensional portals, an apocalypse around every corner), Blade (a ring, a portal, sacrificial victims) and even Thirteen Ghosts (likewise). TMNT introduces a sharper, more adult conflict over leadership between Leonardo and Raphael and parallels that conflict with one between Winters and the stone warriors. That might not sound like a lot, but in a family-oriented children’s film, it counts for a lot of the entertainment factor for parents dragged to a TMNT screening by their children and unfamiliar with the characters and their previous incarnations on television and in film.
TMNT doesn’t do much, though, for new moviegoers unfamiliar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in any of their previous incarnations. TMNT doesn’t revisit the characters’ origins or their relationships to one another. Karai makes a passing mention to Shredder, the turtles’ nemesis from way back in the day (e.g., the comics, animated series, and the earlier films), but no one bothers to explain Shredder’s relationship with the Foot Clan or Karai who may or may not be related to Shredder. The paucity of backstory about Shredder, Karai, and the Foot Clan is minor in relation to the decision to focus almost exclusively on Leonardo and Raphael and their conflict-ridden relationship. Their conflict makes for good drama, but it leaves Donatello and Michelangelo with nothing to do except to quip and/or fight when called on by the screenplay.
Munroe has a good eye when it comes to character designs. The turtles are expressive if not necessarily distinctive (as in their previous incarnations, their masks and choice of weapons distinguish them), with the cleverest designs saved for the demonic monsters and the stone warriors, impressive once they’ve come back to (half) life. Secondary characters tend toward the generic and the forgettable. Munroe and his animators handle the action set pieces well, but they’re also too frenetic. Munroe makes the mistake other animation directors before him have made. Computer animation allows filmmakers’ imaginations unfettered rein. That’s good when we get a chance to check out the detailed character designs, but bad when the speeded-up action becomes impossible to follow. To be fair, Munroe may have made those quick cuts and camera moves to avoid a PG-13 rating. Munroe succeeded, getting a PG rating for TMNT (for "animated action violence, some scary cartoon images and mild language").
With the recent glut of computer animated family-oriented films, it’s hard to predict how TMNT will perform at the box office. On its side, TMNT has the nostalgia factor: twenty somethings and thirty somethings eager to revisit childhood memories of their long ago favorite characters If TMNT meets box office expectations, Munroe's next project for Imagi will be a big-screen, computer animation adaptation of the popular 70s series, Gatchman (reedited and released in the United States as Battle of the Planets). Now that’s something those of us who grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s can look forward to, provided Munroe treats the original incarnation of the television series with the respect it deserves, or at least the respect aging fans of the series think it deserves.
© Mel Valentin, 21st March, 2007
What do you think of TMNT
Share your opinions on our forum