TMNT
Even Vanilla Ice had the good sense to say no to this film.

Theatrical Release Date: 03/23/2007
Director: Kevin Munroe
Featuring the Voices of: Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Patrick Stewart, Ziyi Zhang, Kevin Smith, Laurence Fishburne

When someone mentions the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I have fond memories of rubber turtle suits, Corey Feldman’s voice and a couple of really fun video games.

Then there are the catch phrases; “Cowabunga, dude!”, “Shell shocked” and “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go” all rattle around in my little brain.

As a child, what made the turtles so great was that they were like little kids, only they were trained to be ninjas by a wise, old rat. What’s not to like about that?

That vivacious nature is still present in the newly released and fully CG, “TMNT”, however I think reaching my fourth decade of existence is really beginning to show.

I attended a weekend matinee screening and knew that there would be plenty of kids attending, since this latest adventure is rated PG (Am I the only one that wants a hard R turtles film?).

I held out hope though that, like I was as a child, these kids would go all-out to show their turtle pride. As it was St. Patrick’s Day, just wearing green wasn’t going to cut it with me.

And there were a few kids who fit the bill. Two dressed up in full homemade turtle outfits, complete with shells and masks. They were easily the highlight of the crowd.

Another kid gave it about 75% commitment, wearing a more drab and muddled composition of brown and green, also using a strip of cloth for the mask rather than a full turtle mask.

All fine and good but what the hell was up with the rest of the kids? Sad, I tell you. Just sad.

Equally as sad was a local radio station that co-sponsored the screening. I don’t listen to them anyway but upon entering the theater they were playing “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice.

I was nostalgically pleased and hoped that they would realize that if you’re gonna play that song at a “TMNT” screening, you had better play “Ninja Rap” shortly thereafter. Or at least something from the first movie’s soundtrack like Technotronic’s “Pump Up The Jam”.

But no, they continued with more early 90’s fare like “Rumpshaker” and everything else that was on heavy rotation on MTV during the years they aired “The Grind” and “Club MTV”.

By this point I was just hoping the film couldn’t disappoint me any less than the pre-show activities.

Finally, the lights dim and after a “Harry Potter” trailer, the feature gets underway.

The story begins with a flashback to events in the past, which will set up the crisis in the present that the turtles will have to face. All standard stuff.

The filmmakers even went to the trouble of getting Laurence Fishburne to narrate the opening story. His voice has a great tone to it but neither I, nor my friends, could help but guffaw at the idea of Morpheus telling us this story while the film blithely introduced the turtles onscreen like some sort of Real World opening.

Literally, you see each turtle going about their daily routine and a graphic slides onto the screen to let all of us know which turtle is named what.

So far, I wasn’t impressed. (I was even less impressed as Fishburne’s voice is only heard for the opening minute and a half. Why get him at all if you’re don’t really need a narrator and, more importantly, what do you pay an actor for that amount of work?)

Then April O’Neal comes onscreen and my biggest complaints of the film rise their neatly coiffed heads.

First, April is voiced by Sarah Michelle Geller. I watched quite enough WB and UPN to laugh just about every time Buffy O’Neal said or did anything. And this isn’t the worst part.

In order to make the plot setup a bit better, April isn’t a reporter – she’s a rare artifacts procurer, sort of like Indiana Jones but we aren’t forced to watch her deal with bags of sand and pressure plates.

That she isn’t a reporter is bad enough, seeing as that’s a core trait of the character and one that didn’t need to be meddled with, but to make matters worse, in “TMNT” April O’Neal has ninja skills!!!

WTF!!!

Just because you get the voice of a vampire slayer doesn’t mean you imbue her animated character with the ability to fight the Foot Clan!!!

Huh, just writing these last few paragraphs have downgraded the film another point from what I originally was going to give the film. Way to go, Mrs. Prinze, Jr. (though I blame writer/director Kevin Munroe much, much more).

Ok, so getting away from O’Neal and targeting Casey Jones, I have another pet peeve here. I was always a big fan of the hockey mask wearing vigilante with a penchant for high sticking his foes. However, much like Pierce Brosnan’s turn as Bond, Casey is emasculated in the film.

He’s more of a buffoon and comic relief character than the bad ass Elias Koteas portrayed him as in the live action films.

The rest of the characters are done well enough although you might as well have made this film about a trio of turtles because Donatello gets about as much screen time as the guy credited as “Man with Coffee Cup”.

As my favorite turtle, this especially saddened me and I will have to re-watch the live action stuff to fulfill my craving for purple turtle. (That’s about the most disturbing sentence I’ve ever typed out or even thought).

Onto the film itself, it’s a pretty standard kids thing. With its PG rating, don’t expect any beheadings or for Leonardo’s katanas to actually strike something with the sharp side of the blade.

Also, don’t be surprised by the story failing to make complete sense. Without going into the plot too much, at one point the bad guys are gathering up thirteen monsters to open up a dimensional gate.

They have collected ten of them and some of the villains think it may be wise to double cross the boss and not collect the last monster, instead substituting a turtle.

So we get introduced to this little monster that seems like a copyright infringement on Stitch. He’s easily the most entertaining character in the film, provided some much need amusement and gets away during his scuffle with one of the turtles.

Fast forward to the dénouement and all of sudden Stitch 2 is in a cage and it’s another monster we’ve never seen that’s the last uncollected one of the bunch.

What happened you ask? So do I. But c’est la vie, that’s cartoon continuity for you (and I was able to figure out what they did to make it work but it’s unclear initially and obvious the filmmakers didn’t care to be so linear).

All of those knocks aside, I could see kids enjoying the film and clamoring for their parents to buy them all the toys and the DVD once it’s released so they can watch it over and over again. Kids are dumb.

And as a kids film, “TMNT” holds up well enough and will keep them glued to their seats.

However, unlike most animated fare in the marketplace today, there isn’t anything for adults to enjoy.

There aren’t any snide comments, meant to pass innocently over the heads of younger viewers – and by flipping the bird to many of the core elements of the previous films and the source comics, fans of those previous works who now work for a living won’t find much to like here.

I’m delivering a 2 out of 5 to “TMNT”. It fell short of the mark, as I suspected it might once I learned they were going to CG the entire affair (who doesn’t like martial artists in bulky turtle outfits?). This one isn’t even worth owning to add to the live action films as part of a set.

Unless you’ve got a child somewhere between 7 and 12 years old, find something better to do and save yourself the money and aggravation. The only thing that will get shell shocked is your wallet if you head out to this over hyped calamity.