Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) Review
By Joe Lozito
Give 'em Shell!
Even the finest animation must exist in the service of a good story. The best recent animated films that come to mind ("Toy Story", "Finding Nemo", "The Incredibles"
) all have that in common - good story, smart dialogue, great characters. "TMNT" - a none-too-subtle rebranding of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise for the CG age - has more than enough plot to fill its 90-minute running time (none other than Laurence Fishburne narrates an extensive backstory to kick off the film). But the Turtles have always been a corny superhero spoof, more at home in a series of 30-minute daytime cartoons than a feature-length film. And even with some brilliant CG animation on display, that much hasn't changed.
"TMNT" isn't strictly a superhero "origin story". Like "Superman Returns"
, "TMNT" begins years after the Turtles' heyday. Master Splinter (a giant rat voiced by the late, great Mako) has sent Leonardo to train in the jungles of Central America. Without their leader, the group has become, pardon the pun, splintered. Donatello, the techie of the group, has taken a job providing online technical support; Michelangelo, the goofball, is doing children's parties dressed in a fake turtle suit; and Raphael, the team's Sonny Corleone, has taken to providing vigilante justice solo as "The Nightwatcher". When gazillionaire Max Winters (voiced by Patrick Stewart) hatches a plan involving 3,000 year-old stone statues and a constellation's alignment, it's up to the Turtles to save mankind as we know it.
And so, the movie has a typical "let's get the band back together" plot, with the feud between Leonardo and Raphael taking center stage. As is usual in a story like this, the audience is likely to want the characters (and I use that term loosely) to "hug it out". We're not here to see the Turtles squabble; we're here to see them get their ninja on. It takes a while, but eventually the film delivers with sweeping sequences in and around a beautiful, stylized New York cityscape full of texture and depth.
The film's human characters fare less well. The Turtles themselves seem ironically realistic next to the jutting jaws, inflated chests and miniscule waists on the humans. The voices of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Chris Evans as Turtle sidekicks April and Casey do little to add depth to their roles. But anytime the dialogue stops and the action begins, "TMNT" has enough to keep the eyes popping. Particularly stunning is a battle in the rain. Sadly, the animation is years more mature than the material it supports.