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TMNT Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2007

Image I’ve been bathing with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for almost twenty years. That hasn’t been out of choice. It’s been because I’ve had children at just the right ages to enjoy the whole concept of mutated ninja turtles fighting evil bad guys (EVIL BAD is not totally redundant because there are bad guys and evil bad guys, according to my kids, who know from bad guys), living in the sewers of a large city, and ordering pizza. I don’t know how many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures I’ve bought over the years, but it seems like enough to populate a small city. Or at least a suburb, ward, or district.

Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird first developed the idea of the four turtles named after Italian artists (Michaelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael) as a spoof to some of the comics field’s hottest selling series back in the early 1980s, specifically “The X-Men.” The comic was a self-published black and white single issue a whole lot more adult than the merchandising that came after it.

After the comic was published and really didn’t capture the attention of the comics fans, the Turtles were given a second, ENORMOUS life as a kid product. The initial comic barely got the attention of comics fans, but an entrepreneur approached the two surprised creators, made them a deal, and later incarnations – on a more juvenile level -- sold a lot of comics to kids and parents of kids who got in on the fad of the Turtles. Hammered into kid-friendly versions, the Turtles starred in a cartoon series on national television, and absolutely skyrocketed to success in one of the biggest explosions of cross-over advertising and media that ever happened.

In addition to the original cartoon series, there were updates that included a new 2007 release, action figures, video games, card games, comics, three live-action movies, dreadful and campy at the same time, but packed kids and parents into the theater seats, and merchandise that would fill dozens of warehouses. For a while, it seemed there wasn’t a product that was manufactured that didn’t have a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles logo on it somewhere. But the Turtles have been quiet of late until rumors of a new TMNT movie started to surface. The underground buzz started building, and it reached an even bigger level when everyone found out the new movie was going to be computer-generated animation. That was the best of both worlds: cartoons that looked realistic.

When the movie was released, I didn’t have to tell my 9 year old who the Turtles were. He’d already seen the cartoons. He’d already seen the three live-action movies – several times. He’d been playing with his brothers’ and sister’s second-hand Turtles, even bought Turtles of his own. And his brothers and sister gleefully told him about the Turtles to prep him for the movie. All of my kids loved Master Splinter, the rat that mutated through the same cause as the Turtles and who became their mentor.

That day at the theater, I bought tickets for my 9 year old and me, my 21 year old daughter, and my 18 year old son. The latter two were supposed to be way too cool for Turtles. Everyone was excited, and when the opening frames started, everyone cheered. You could feel the excitement.

Now the DVD is out and people are picking them up. I’m certain that a lot of them are going to be Christmas presents.

I have to admit, the movie looks spectacular. The computer-generated images by Imagi Animation Studios are slick and crisp, and you’re truly not going to get any better than the HD DVD presentation that’s on this disc. The colors are awesome, dude, and the edges of the images and characters are sharp and clean. The animation quality is on a par with the best Pixar has to offer.

The sound is amazing and geared for the surround sound system. After viewing the film in the theater, then watching it at home, I was doubly impressed. The DVD is faithful to the original sound, as I remember it, due to the TrueHD encoding. And my surround sound system played great.

The movie even addresses the reason that we haven’t heard much about the Turtles lately. They’ve been split up while Leonardo (voice of James Arnold Taylor) has been in Central America trying to figure out what he’s supposed to learn next or what to do with his life. The Shredder, the iconic arch-foe of the Turtles, is dead.

In the meantime, Raphael (Nolan North) has been carrying on his crime-fighting calling as the Nightwatcher. Michaelangelo and Donatello (Mikey Kelly and Michael Whitfield) have gone into business together creating entertainment for kids’ birthday parties, which provides moments of slapstick humor. Master Splinter, voiced by Hollywood legend Mako (Iwamatsu) in what became his last film, has tried to keep everyone calm and together.

April O’Neil is the only mismatched voice in the film; she is voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame, who also played Daphne in the two Scooby-Doo movies. Gellar does a great job, but her voice is simply too distinct. Even though every Turtle-lover knows that April received training from the Turtles, we also know that she never became truly great at fighting. She was there for support, investigative work, and grounding viewers in the real world as to what everyone would think if the Turtles lived out in the open. The movie carries her fighting ability to the extreme, and I couldn’t help feeling at those times that we were watching Buffy rather than April.

Chris Evans provides the voice for Casey Jones, the hockey mask-wearing street vigilante who uses sports gear as weapons that ultimately joins up with the Turtles in their crime-fighting careers. He seems to have had a blast.

Patrick Stewart lends his voice to Max Winters, the good/bad guy. I couldn’t help thinking I was listening to Captain Picard or Professor X, though. His voice, like Gellar’s, is just way too distinctive to escape notice. However, he has a great voice for this kind of aristocratic role.

The plot revolves around an ancient legend about an invading army of monsters coming from a parallel universe. And man, you have to hate when that happens. Thirteen monsters were turned into statues 3000 years ago. However, if the statutes are reunited and Winters activates arcane machinery with them in it, the doorway to the other universe will open again.

Of course, once the Turtles figure that out, they can’t allow that to happen. The fight sequences are especially well choreographed, which is to be expected at this level of production. But it’s the story of the Turtles trying to reunite that really pulls in the fans. The characters have never been sharper or more clearly motivated.

Kevin Munroe directed the movie and wrote the script. He’s worked on animation projects in a variety of fields, including cartoons, comics, and video games. His love for and understanding of the Turtles shows in every frame. He also provides commentary on the feature.

In addition to Munroe’s commentary, the Special Features package includes an Alternate Opening – Splinter Tells the Back Story and an Alternate Ending with Casey and April that fans will be glad to have. One deleted scene that’s not so much but is nice to have for completion’s sake: “Mikey Sneaking Food to Splinter”. More interesting is the Side-by-Side Comparison of Storyboards and CGI Action because it shows the various permutations of both as artist and computer generation stylists had to work out the various presentations. The interviews with voice talent Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Laurence Fishburne and the Filmmakers is great and adds a lot of background to the movie experience.

“TMNT” is simply one of the best family films to come out this year. Even those people that aren’t Turtles fan will be tempted to add this to the home collection, then pursue other Turtle DVDs. This one is the best, but the others are fun. The level of violence might offend some parents of small children, but you have to keep in mind that the Turtles play with edged weapons and take themselves seriously. At least part of the time. But this HD DVD is definitely a keeper. Cowabunga, dudes!

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