Wrapping up the case for the Turtles: TMNT

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Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

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.

The (Ever Dwindling) Case for the Turtles: Part 3

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Part 1    Part 2    Part 4

Well, going into this whole “tell why I like the turtle franchise” series I knew that I was going to have to confront what is almost universally known as the worst of the bunch. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III uses the ever popular time-travel-trope in an attempt to maintain the momentum that the first two movies managed to generate. I feel like a review of the movie isn’t going to help my case for why I love this series, so rather, I’ll give a brief synopsis of the film and then a list of why it was actually, somewhat enjoyable to see the Turtles succumb to a new level of mediocrity.

      Turtles in Time as I’ve come to call it, mostly due to the NES game that far surpasses the movie, presents us with our favorite heroes in a half-shell shortly after they’ve defeated Shredder for a second time (and this time for good). April is en rout for a much needed vacation, and, for reasons I will never be able to understand, decides to give the Turtles some radical (read: terrible) gifts from a flea market before heading out. Among the random assortment of thrift store rubbish is an ancient scepter that she thinks looked Japanese, so she naturally picks it up for Splinter. Naturally, things go horribly wrong when the scepter turns out to be an ancient time machine that hurtles April into ancient Japan, while simultaneously throttling the emperors rebellious son into the future in her place. No surprise, the Turtles head back after her, leaving a slightly confused Casey Jones to watch over the emperors son, as well as four of the emperors royal guards who swapped places with the turtles. A number of challenges await the turtles in the past, namely finding April and the time scepter so they can get back home. There is also the rebellion they decide to help out… since they’re in town. The Turtles find themselves face to face with a group of traders that seek to bring firepower to the side of the oppressive emperor.

That’s the long and the short of it, and I’ll just give you a quick heads up on some of the negative aspects of it. The script and dialogue is worse than the other two films combined, the turtles aren’t done by Jim Henson so they look weird, the time scepter plot makes less sense than the turtles origin story and the ridiculousness level is at an all time high. That’s just to name a few problems, but what makes it worth watching? Lets do this in list form, shall we?

 

 

  1. Time Travel: The over-used time travel schtick was one of the worst things about it, but it was also one of the best things about it. Getting the Turtles out of their regular environment was something that needed to be done, they had been fighting the same bad guy for two films in the same city with very little change. Also, the way the time scepter works is that if someone in the past, the scepter it activates at the same time in the future. Which, in linear terms makes absolutely no sense. Making the only plausible explanation is that the two time lines are in separate universes. Given the turtles history with other dimensions (namely X) this makes perfect sense, and actually ads to the canon quite nicely
  2. Higher Production Value: You’re not going to be watching the best period piece by any stretch of the imagination, that’s evident by the majority of the actors they hired. Still, it was pretty fun seeing all the sets and costumes look like they jumped out of ancient Japan. The traders even added a little swash-buckle to the franchise, and that’s always nice.
  3. Casey Came Back: Casey Jones’ absence from Secret of the Ooze, was inexcusable. He was easily the most entertaining part of the first movie, and he’s back in the third one. It’s a shame his role is slightly watered down and takes second fiddle to the main plot, but he brings about the few laughs that the film has to offer as the babysitter of ancient warriors in modern day New York.
  4. It’s Still the Turtles: The movie wasn’t great, but it hadn’t sunk to a level that the poorly made live action TV show would become. Most of the bad dialogue and corny jokes are excusable because the this franchise is so unique. Very few studios would take on a project like this. A live action film about four mutant Ninja Turtles going back in time to aid a rebellion in ancient Japan doesn’t really sound like something you would see outside of the SyFy channel; but this was different, everyone in 1993 wanted to see just that.

 

It’s sad to see the franchise sink to the level that Turtles III sank to, however it isn’t without it’s merits. We get a chance to see the turtles in a new environment fighting new enemies with some overly formulaic jokes and pop culture references. It’s certainly worth watching, at least once while powering through the four movies that comprise this series. Sure, it’s the film that stopped production of TMNT movies for a solid 14 years, but it wasn’t the end for the Turtles quite yet.

 

The Case for The “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Part 1

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Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

I am more than willing to admit that my love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise comes from a fierce dedication to the cartoons I watched throughout the course of my childhood. I’m willing to admit that I overlook glaringly obvious flaws in the film franchise because of the integral part that the heroes in a half-shell played in my development of appreciation of popular culture. Here’s the thing; for those not initiated with the turtle franchise (including my wife), the idea of four giant mutated turtles learning ninjutsu from a mutated rat-human hybrid to fight crime in New York City is a little hard to swallow. Critically speaking, the films were not well received. Thankfully, the general public received the Turtles much better than the critics would have hoped. We’re now 23 years past the release of the first Turtle movie; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t enter into the movie realm blindly. A devout following from both the comic books as well as the children’s cartoon showed that there certainly was a market for the turtles. The first movie pits the turtles against the rise of the foot clans attack on New York City. Shredder is recruiting youths in an effort to create a crime empire in the big apple. As the film progresses the fight becomes more personal, to the point that by the end of the film it’s an all out grudge match between Shredder and the Turtles. April O’Neil and Casey Jones are two human allies to the turtles. O’Neil is a news reporter for a local channel while Casey Jones is a vigilante crime fighter with a major affinity for sports.

The flaws in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aren’t few. We’re treated to some terrible dialogue including some of the corniest one liners committed to film, a clunky back story, the idea that a Ninja master would stoop to stealing electronics for money, the overall silliness of the movie makes it feel like a live action cartoon. Oh, wait; maybe it’s supposed to be that way. We’re dealing with a concept that is quite literally a live action cartoon. Sure the hockey lines cause you to groan at times, and they’re not always delivered the best. The turtles are juvenile and angsty, but they are teenagers. It’s something you have to chalk up to taste, but if you can get past the eye-roll factor that comes with the concept then you can have an absolute blast.

The set pieces, visuals, cinematography and costumes all seemed to have oozed out of the neon colored cartoon and into the live action film. Not since Dick Tracey have I seen a movie come so close to accurately portraying it’s animated nature into a real world setting. This inaugural Turtles film laid the groundwork for future sequels. It takes itself serious enough to be an a decent action/adventure film, yet remains silly enough to be a kids movie; though many would argue it is far darker than most, mostly due to it’s dedication to the source material from the comic books. The stunts and action sequences in the film are spectacular. This is well before stylized editing saturated the action elements of films, so we find ourselves content to watch a brawl unfold in real time. The thing with the turtles is, they’re in a fairly bulky costume, yet are incredibly agile. The imagination doesn’t need to stretch too far to allow for the believability of martial artist turtles. My friend and fellow blogger Ryan Partlow pointed out an interesting fact about this movie: At the time, it was the highest grossing independent movie ever made.

It’s an odd ball feature that allows for a nostalgic peak into the past. The Turtles themselves have been incredibly prevalent in pop culture, even having a current running cartoon. We are (unfortunately) going to be getting a Michael Bay Turtles movie in the near future as well. If you are uninitiated to the franchise, or haven’t seen this one in years it’s worth watching. certain aspects have not aged well, but as a whole it is still entertaining and, honestly, the most creative gimmick of it’s time. The Turtles have transcended multiple generations, and at this rate will continue to do so.