Directed by: Kevin Munroe
Starring: James Arnold Taylor, Mitchell Winfield, Mikey Kelley, Nolan North, Mako, Sarah Michelle Gellar
Rated: PG for animated action violence, some scary cartoon images and mild language.
Parental Notes: This is a solid kids movie. Some very young children may find the martial arts action a bit too much, but there is no gore and the “language” in the rating notes is very mild.
For a certain generation, the phrase “teenage mutant ninja turtles” causes an automatic response: “heroes in the half-shell! Turtle power!” OK, maybe that’s just me. But your humble reviewer was most definitely looking forward to the latest incarnation of the four reptilian martial artists, a feature-length computer-generated move with celebrity voices. I’m no purist — I own and love the first two graphic novels, grew up on the cartoon and the movies. I was thrilled to see new adventures from the guys, regardless of exactly where on the goofy-to-serious spectrum they fell. The new film did not disappoint me: it has plenty of action, a look at the quartet after the events of previous films, and the new CGI look works surprisingly well.
The connection between the earlier films and the new one is a bit loose: the only references to previous events are mentions that the Shredder has been defeated and without his leadership, the Foot Clan ninjas are now mercenaries. After that battle, Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) was sent to South America to learn to become a better leader. Without him, the other turtles have sort of fallen apart. Donatello (Mitchell Winfield) is working in tech support, Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) is doing kids parties, and Raphael (Nolan North) just sleeps all day. But Raph has a secret — at night he takes to the streets in armor as the Nightwatcher, a vigilante. The turtles’ father-figure and teacher, Master Splinter (Mako), is concerned but (as usual) willing to let the turtles figure things out for themselves.
April O’Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is now working as some sort of Indiana-Jones type archaeologist — she finds Leonardo while she’s on a job in South America retrieving a statue for the millionaire Max Winters (Patrick Stewart). It quickly develops that Winters has plans for the statue and the other three in its set — and he hires the Foot Clan to round up the monsters that are appearing one by one in the city for use in the same plan. Leonardo returns, and not a moment too soon — the turtles need to figure out what is going on, and fast, before the stars align and Winters can open a portal into another dimension.
If you think that sounds a lot like a goofy kids movie plot, you’re right; although “TMNT” is a bit darker than the cartoons and earlier movies it’s nowhere near as dark as the comics. There’s conflict between Leonardo and Raphael which comes to a head in a spectacular fight between the brothers, and there’s plenty of fighting both with monsters and with the Foot, but the film is rated PG, so the violence is all stylized martial-arts stuff, and while some of the characters use edged weapons, there’s no gore.
The one thing that midly bugged me is the stylized look of the humans in the film. That definitely took some getting used to — for most of the film’s running time, the turtles struck me as the most realistic characters on the screen. While that was spiffy in the turtles-only parts of the film, it was a bit jarring the rest of the time. But this is a minor quibble — anybody used to CGI animation will likely have no problems.
“TMNT” is a fun film. Kids will almost certainly enjoy it, and grownups with fond memories of the turtles will probably like it too. But if you’re looking for something straight out of the old comics or a replay of the goofy 80s cartoon, this is neither. It’s somewhere in the middle.