The heroes in a half shell are back, and looking better than ever. TMNT doesn’t represent a revolutionary rebirth of the franchise, but it does breathe new life into once-loved characters who’ve been fading in our memory. Whatever your take on this film, kids, one thing’s for certain: these ain’t your daddy’s turtles.
It has been more than 10 years since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stunk up the big screen in their third film, which had them time-traveling back to ancient Japan for some schlocky, death-of-a-franchise action. With that disaster in mind, I say thank goodness for TMNT coming along to obliviate their ancient Japan adventure from our memory.
This time around, the turtles start off lost. Not “which way to our sewer lair?” lost, but “what am I doing with my life?” lost. It’s like a mid-life crisis of sorts. Anyway, the main reason appears to be that Leonardo, the eldest of the turtles and their captain, has been sent far, far away to finish his leadership training. Even though the much-revered Splinter sent Leo on his journey, the other turtles, especially Raphael, are having a tough time. Donatello is doing tech support over the phone, and Michaelangelo is working kids’ birthday parties in a fake turtle costume. Only Raphael continues to fight evil, in the guise of The Night Watcher.
Meanwhile, April, on a business trip down south somewhere, finds Leo defending villagers in some distant jungle region. She tells him how bad things are back home in the city, to persuade him to return.
Leo eventually does return, and his timing couldn’t have been better. Though their nemesis Shredder has been long defeated, a new threat is rising. The dreaded Foot Clan is involved, but they’re the least of the turtles’ worries, for their new foes are ancient warriors looking to conquer the world with the help of monsters from another dimension. Throw in the fact that the turtles have lost their team spirit, with Raphael more likely to fight Leo than accept his leadership. Shake it all up, and you’ve got four mutant ninja turtles in a world of trouble.
By far, the best aspect of TMNT is its look. The character design and animation present the turtles in a far better light than the original animated series or the previous live-action films. There’s no doubt that this 3D CGI medium is the best choice for the franchise, as it offers the capability to mesh the flexibility of animation with the sense of realism of a three-dimensional world.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t achieve the same high standard. Plot events seem strung together, as if a filmmaking commitee met periodically to determine the next step and differing opinions muddled concerns for continuity. While there’s a definite attempt for more maturity in the turtles’ relationships, particularly with Leo and Raphael, the conflicts aren’t explored with any meaningful depth before they’re resolved in Saturday-morning cartoon fashion. I could hear the plot commitee during the film: “ok, wrap it up! It’s time to kick some shell!”
The result of this mis-mash of well-crafted style and weak substance is a great Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles outing and a pretty decent kids’ action movie. If you can, as they say, check your brain at the door, you shouldn’t have much trouble enjoying this one.
TMNT is presented on a single, double-sided disc, with both full-screen and widescreen presentations. While I definitely advocate choosing the widescreen, I think offering both options is a smart decision for any film aimed largely at younger audiences. But either way you go, you’ll be treated to an excellent transfer that does justice to the film’s pleasing visuals. The full dynamic range from light to dark is well represented, and colours are nice, vibrant and consistent. No complaints here.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is a good match for the exciting visuals. There’s obviously plenty of action in the film, and you’ll hear all five channels appropriately alive with a thrilling variety of effects. When the ninja turtles tackle a giant monster several floors up in a half-built skyscraper, or Michaelangelo takes to the sewers for a breakneck skateboarding ride, your system will provide suitable accompaniment. Even the quieter dialogue scenes have a moody underpinning thanks to the film’s well-balanced score. All around, this is a satisfying aural experience.
TMNT plays some kind of shell game in the bonus materials department. At first glance, the collection of extras seems big and bountiful, but once you tuck in you’ll find there just isn’t a lot of great material. Here’s the breakdown:
Audio commentary with Kevin Munroe: the film’s writer-director offers up an informative commentary track, outlining a lot of the creative direction behind the animation and the story.
Alternate opening and ending: the best extras on the disc, these two offer a look at what might have been, had the filmmakers had the time and money to create these extended versions of the film’s beginning and end.
Deleted scenes: if “Splinter gets cake” has you excited, you’re on your own. This set of deleted “scenes” is heavy on lame and not much else. Why bother?
Cast interviews: they call it the “voice talent,” but we don’t see any of the folks who voiced the turtles. Only the big names are here, with Lawrence Fishburne, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Patrick Stewart.
Storyboards: compare the film’s storyboards side-by-side with the final animated sequences. Why? I’m not sure. To see how well the animators follow direction? Or how the direction wasn’t good enough for the final product? You be the judge.
Donny’s Digital Data Files: the only real look at the animation process offered, and it barely runs two minutes. This doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what I was hoping for on this disc.
Pre-visualization Sequences: a bunch of too-short sequences thrown together, for your viewing pleasure. Don’t let it whet your appetite, because there isn’t any more where this came from.
TMNT successfully introduces the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to a new generation, and will probably manage to bring old fans along for the ride. With this fun-but-flawed movie in the bag, I look forward to more and better follow-ups. As for this disc, snap it up without question if you’re a fan. There won’t be enough extras to satisfy, but the audio-video quality makes up for it.