Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
May 2007

Heroes in a half-shell

Come on, sing along, all you disenchanted twentysomethings wondering where your youth went! The Turtles are back...kinda

Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Kevin Munroe
Screenplay: Kevin Munroe, based on comic book and characters created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Starring the voices of:Nolan North, James Arnold Taylor, Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Patrick Stewart, Ziyi Zhang, Mako, Mitchell Whitfield and Mikey Kelley
Rated PG / 1 hour, 30 minutes
Opened May 25, 2007
(out of four)

So let me get this straight - the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are popular again? What am I, 10? When did this happen? Should I call my mom and have her get all my old Turtle toys and memorabilia out? Is this a retro thing? Because if my Michelangelo action figure that paddles and floats in the bathtub is some sort of collector's item, I'd like to know about it.

Or more likely, the new TMNT was made out of a sense of nostalgia for a phenomenon that hit its peak more than a decade ago. If it has introduced a new generation of children to Turtle Power, I'm all for it. Even if, looking back, the whole Ninja Turtle thing seems like it was created by a pair of stoned teenagers using a random word generator. I really don't get it - but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy it.

Maybe coming out with a new Turtles film in 2007 is genius on the part of writer/director Kevin Munroe. The 18-to-24 demographic is the most coveted of all, and we all loved the Ninja Turtles. Anyone who didn't is probably a Communist.

As it is, the new film - which thankfully does away with the bastardized new TMNT cartoon that turned Splinter into a crime-fighter - isn't really geared toward people my age, even if we are the only ones who can fully appreciate it at this point. After all, we were the ones who lined up on opening day to see the original live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie on March 30, 1990. We all loved these guys. They were our childhood heroes. We could watch them with admiration and say to ourselves - "Yes...I, too, love pizza. I, too, feel like an outsider." I'm tempted to write a pretentious undergrad theoretical piece comparing Raphael to Holden Caulfield, but I'll resist.

All kidding aside, TMNT is a good movie for kids, but not much more. It's a bit like last year's Curious George, a movie I liked but which was geared almost exclusively toward children. Curious George worked because it didn't pander or anything like that - it just knew how to simplify story, character and even animation. Like that film, TMNT is not as sophisticated or mature as most modern animated features in the digital Pixar era.

It doesn't have the ambition - the desire to appeal equally to kids and grown-ups - of successful films like Shrek, The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, but at the same time it doesn't fail as miserably as such imitators as Madagascar and Valiant, among others. It knows what it is. The story is easy to digest, and every bit as simple and childish as the Saturday morning cartoon, and that has its delights. For those of us who recognize and know the characters already, maybe there's a little extra for us.

As we all know, Raphael is the greatest Turtle of all - the sarcastic, rebellious rogue who thinks for himself and is hesitant to embrace the outdated collectivism of Splinter's world ethos.

In TMNT, he's once again having his problems with that little sissy Leonardo, and once again, they will all come together to defeat the bad guys - in this case, a bunch of ancient warriors brought back from the dead. The warriors are under the control of industrial tycoon Max Winters (voiced by Patrick Winters), who was their leader 3,000 years ago before he was granted the gift of immortality and they were turned to stone. Now, in modern-day New York City, he's bringing them all back from the dead in order to...well, he keeps his intentions secret (except to adults who have ever seen a movie).

The Turtles, meanwhile, still live in their derelict, but strangely charming, underground bachelor pad in the sewers, but they've gone their separate ways - Leonardo has been gone for years learning how to be a better leader, Raphael is secretly fighting crime at night under an assumed identity. Donatello and Michaelangelo have gone the entrepreneurial route in ways only they could pull off. And Splinter is a borderline hokey Asian stereotype. Whatever...kids won't get that.

Other familiar characters return, including April O'Neil and Casey Jones, who are living together and having relationship problems. Casey, it seems, has commitment issues. OK then...maybe this is the one aspect of the film that kids couldn't possibly care less about. (Speaking of which, I doubt the studio really needed to spend this much money on voice talent. Really, do we really need Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ziyi Zhang? Do kids really care about audio star power? I don't think so.)

The most impressive thing about TMNT is the artistry of the animation, particularly that of the various creatures that pop up over the course of the story. In fact, I wish the film had done more with the creatures, which are only on screen for brief moments - they look so great, they deserve more screen time and probably a bigger part in the plot.

The film's visuals stand out more than anything else in the film. The animation style may be overly derivative of films like The Incredibles and at times the film may feel too much like a Saturday morning cartoon instead of a movie. But as I said, that works to its advantage. You know - for kids! TMNT isn't a bad movie...but it's not exactly good, either. However, that's only true for adults, and that is not the target audience. And after all, we are talking about giant mutated turtles that eat pizza and fight crime.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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