I don’t know about you, but I like this new trend of revisiting great gimmicks of the ‘80s and ‘90s. We’ve had Transformers and The Simpsons hit the big screen this summer, and the return of Alvin and the Chipmunks, Thundercats, Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe to look forward to in the near future. But, this week, on DVD, is the return of four turtles, genetically reborn in the sewers of New York, named after the great Renaissance masters and trained as ninjas. Yes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back with an abbreviated name, a new look, a lot of dialogue, and, of course, pizza.
I remember waking up Saturday mornings to watch the four heroes in a half-shell battle Shredder, his evil foot clan, and other beastly creatures. Each week, the turtles kicked butt and took names as they made their signature wisecracks and engraved words like dude, cowabunga, gnarly and radical into the vocabulary of youngsters across America. That was back in 1987. It is now 2007, and those of us who used to scream “Turtle Power” during every episode are a lot older and have gone through changes. The turtles, however, are exactly the same – sort of.
We are reunited with the Turtles some time after they have defeated their arch-nemesis Shredder. They have stopped fighting crime and grown apart as a family – all of them doing their own separate things. Their leader, Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor), has been sent to Central America by Master Splinter (Mako) to learn how to become a better leader. Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) is working as a telemarketer, while Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) has his own birthday party entertainment business where he dresses up as a ninja turtle. Hot-tempered Raphael (Nolan North) has decided that crime needs to be fought in the city, so he returns to his ninja ways and becomes the Nightwatcher. They have even lost touch with their friends April O’Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones (Chris Jones). Meanwhile, a rather boring industrialist Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) is arranging an army of ancient monsters to, apparently, take over the world.
Director Kevin Munroe has all the ingredients needed to make a successful TMNT adventure – a power-hungry tycoon, ugly bad guys and even uglier monsters, turtles fathered by a Chinese rat in a New York sewer and ninja fights. For me, however, there was something missing from this movie that I, as a kid, always got with the original cartoon series and comic books: Fun. I always remembered having fun and laughing while watching TMNT as a kid. This, however, felt more like I was visiting relatives that I have met before but hadn’t seen in 10 years. It was slightly uncomfortable and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to reacquaint myself with them because they were different than I remembered and they smelled kind of funky. Then, of course, they start to fight and everything I was thinking went up in flames, ‘cause, heck, it is fun to watch them fight.
Unfortunately, they don’t fight enough in TMNT, which is a shame because the animation, which looks amazing for the turtles and creatures, but terrible for the humans, creates some incredible fight scenes. They should have had twice as many fight sequences, mainly because that is what these characters are known for, and the word ninja appears in the title (maybe this was the reason they chose to abbreviate the title to TMNT, so those who lived in a bubble during the 1980s wouldn’t know we’re dealing with ninjas). When Leonardo and Raphael fight on the rooftop, it finally feels like a TMNT movie. There is less talking and more fighting. That is what is needed, because that is where the excitement comes from. The purpose of making a new TMNT flick 10 years after the last one was made is to give a new generation the opportunity to see turtles move fast and kick some butt, right? Well, why so much talking? This film takes itself so seriously that it kind of takes the joy out of the characters and the artistry out of the ninja techniques taught to them by a rat.
Part of what made the cartoons work was the corniness, childish behavior and the lingo, dude. All of that was pretty much gone, with the exception of Michelangelo’s gnarly accent and DUDE 1 license plate. I think I, very faintly, heard one of the turtles say cowabunga, but I’m not sure. Heck, even the theme song, which I was chanting in my head all day long, is long gone.
This is a very stiff TMNT film. The voice over work is as bland and emotionless as you can get in animation, with the exception of Michelangelo. I like that the director and everyone involved wanted to bring the TMNT franchise back, but it feels like there was no passion involved, and no one seemed to have any understanding of the characters. Whether it was Patrick Stewart, who created a bland villain, Sarah Michelle Gellar, who portrayed a boring April O’Neil, or one of the actors that did the voices of the turtles, there was nothing in their voices. Also, the turtles are supposed to be teenagers, right? Why does Raphael sound like a 50-year-old janitor living in Brooklyn? The movie felt rushed and distant. At 87 minutes long, it takes more than half the movie for the foursome to get back on the streets as a team.
The film has moments that brought me back to childhood, and for that I am grateful. But, if you’re going to make a new franchise of TMNT films, because it is hinted at toward the end of the film that this is a possible franchise, the people making the film have to have fun with it. When the TMNT comic book was created in 1984, it was created as a spoof of the hero genre. It was meant to be fun. I watched this movie expecting to have a great time with some old friends. Sure, they do some of their old party tricks and serve plenty of pizza, but, in the end, they are just too serious for me, and it ruins the party.
While the movie may not pack the punch you would want out of a TMNT film, the disc left me shell-shocked with the amount of special features it offers. There are three different screens filled with features ranging from commentary and alternate endings to deleted scenes and storyboard comparisons.
The commentary lets you watch the entire TMNT movie with its monotone director giving you the play-by-play on how the filmmakers decided to create certain scenes and the thought process behind them. If Munroe weren’t so dull, the commentary might be pretty awesome, considering this is an animated film and it’s interesting to hear the filmmakers perspective on creating a CGI film.
Some of the more interesting features, however, are the ones that take you behind the scenes of creating the character movement and development. It not only shows you the storyboard of what the director wanted in particular scenes, but it shows you the groundwork of the CGI process and how it all eventually becomes the characters you see on screen. It is impressive to watch, even if the movie itself fell a little flat.
Donny’s Digital Data Files, Roof Top Workout, and Raphael’s Rough House Fight Test all take you inside the development of the characters and their surroundings. There is commentary that guides you through the process of what they’re showing you. Some of it is dull, but if you are a tech-wiz, a computer geek, or just someone that loves the filmmaking process, you might find these features interesting.
My favorite features on any DVD are either deleted scenes or bloopers. The only DVD of an animated film that I have ever seen containing bloopers was Shrek. While TMNT does not contain bloopers, it does contain an alternate opening, with Splinter giving the back story of the turtles, an alternate ending with Casey and April, an additional scene where Splinter gets cake and a sequence of Michelangelo doing one of his birthday parties. These deleted scenes left me confused about one thing. During the alternate ending feature, Munroe says that he is a fan of big endings. He said the alternate ending was an idea for a big ending, but they didn’t go with it? Why? That makes no sense.
The disc also contains the interviews with the actors who did the voices for the various characters, as well as the trailer that was seen on the Internet. All of the options make for a rather entertaining special features section. After watching the movie, however, it will come as no surprise that all of the features are filled with commentary – often long and babbling rants that could drive you nuts, possibly even far enough to get ninja training and hunt the director down. Hopefully no one will take it that far, but I wouldn’t completely blame you if you did, dude.