This is it, the final installment into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise until the Michael Bay produced re-boot happens sometime next year. While I will continue to remain overly optimistic about the project until proven wrong, it is getting harder and harder to not groan at some of the casting and artistic choices he’s taken. Anywho, where were we? Ah, yes! TMNT the fourth and final chapter in the original Turtle saga. When we last left the Turtles they had visited ancient japan in a zany and pun-ridden adventure to save April. This plot line essentially left us waiting 14 years for another movie. Perhaps it was the rapid succession that the first three films came onto the scene that made public movie goers a bit weary, but thankfully, we got to see the four reptilian crime fighting brothers in action once again. This time, the whole thing is wrapped in a medium that may have been more suited to their particular needs.
TMNT, although a direct sequel to the previous three live action movies, is completely computer animated. As impressive as Henson’s costumes were, and as cool as it was to see Casey Jones and April as real life actors for the first time on screen, it becomes immediately apparent that the turtles are just as comfortable in an animated environment as a live action one, perhaps more so. The film picks up on the Turtles roughly a year (perhaps more?) after their last adventure. Leonardo left for leadership training/self discovery in the forests of south America. He is eventually discovered by April, who is no longer a reporter but a procurer of rare artifacts. April convinces him that his year absence from his brothers has put the Turtle team on stand still indefinitely. He returns just as a group of stone warriors and monsters begins to tear apart the city. Before they can confront the monsters however, they must learn a valuable lesson about the importance of teamwork and they value of differences.
The basic message of this film is as obvious and as blatant as a locker room pep talk. Work together, you’re only as strong as your weakest link etc. etc. But in a way, that’s what the Turtles are all about, so it’s unsurprising. The story actually holds up quite well in spite of certain dialogue issues. The characters have changed slightly, overly emphasizing the differences in personality. The biggest and most annoying change happens with Michelangelo, who has kept his jokester demeanor, but is significantly dumbed down to the point of irritation. Goofy wit is exchanged for dimwittedness. And what the whole plot boils down to is the conflict between Raph and Leo, with the most emotionally charged scene being a martial arts battle between the two of them.
Visually, this movie nailed it. It uses a mixture of vibrant colors with dark shadows to convey the unique universe that has become home to the Turtles, and the cinematography allows for some truly cool looking action sequences that are unparalleled in the series. The voice acting is pretty great as well, particularly with the addition of Mako, who voices Splinter. While different than any other version, Mako brings a surprising range to the character, with more humor but the same amount of weight and seriousness behind his words and warnings.
TMNT found it’s stride early on in the opening sequence. By the time the logo flashes onto the screen I was already amped up for the return of the pizza loving, heroes in a half shell. While script issues are obvious (a problem that has plagued every Turtles movie) TMNT steps it up visually and compliments it all with a story that fits the animated world that the franchise cozies into. The film both ties in nicely with the previous three movies, while at the same time giving hope of a continuation of the animated re-boot . The end of the film promised an animated sequel with old enemies returning. Instead, they handed the reigns to Michael Bay. That, however, will never discredit the four film series that gave the Turtles a shot at the big screen, with incredible results.