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"TMNT": A Shell of a Good Time

Forget re-makes and re-packaging. TMNT does open with a brief backstory about the turtles and how they were mutated by a strange goo and trained as ninjas by their rodent mentor, Splinter. But for the most part the movie just assumes its audience will know all about them. In fact, key items shown at the end of the movie seem to tie this movie directly to the continuity of the first three live-action movies. How’s that for fanservice?

The plot of this film, which is also backgrounded in the intro, deals with an Ancient Warrior who opened a portal to another dimension and gained immortality, but in doing so petrified his “brothers” and released thirteen monsters upon the world. (Bummer!) But the action begins in Central America, where a mysterious “Ghost of the Jungle” is protecting the humble villagers from greedy protection rackets. Said Ghost is in fact Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor), who has been off training for a year to learn to be a better leader for the Mutant Ninja group. There, he is tracked down by April O’Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who fills him in on how the others have been doing since his departure.

Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) is playing up his goofy nature and dressing up as a costumed turtle/birthday party clown with a high tolerance of abuse. Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) has put his intelligent mind to use by hosting a tech support service. Raphael (Nolan North) seems to spend all day sleeping, but in actuality patrols the night as “Nightwatcher,” an armored crime-stopping vigilante who’s seen too many Batman and Spider-Man films. Casey Jones (Chris Evans) quickly catches on and joins the vigilante, while lamenting the need to “grow up” to allow his relationship with April to go to the next level.

Meanwhile, Max Winters (Patrick Stewart), a fantastically rich businessman, is collecting 3000-year-old warrior statues from around the world via April’s delivery company. Winters is the immortal warrior, who is now trying to collect the thirteen monsters so that he can send them back and regain mortality for himself and his stone brethren. To do this, he hires the FOOT ninja clan, which is now led by Karai (Zhang Ziyi), the Shredder’s daughter.

The real heart of the story begins when Leonardo returns to New York and attempts to re-unite his team. While Don and Mike are thrilled to see him again, Leo continues to feel inadequate as a leader, sentiments Raph agrees with and constantly rubs in. Eventually this leads to a long awaited confrontation between the two.

And what a fight it is! The animation is spot-on, with a fluidity of movement that finally evokes “ninja.” The weight in their acrobatics as they leap off buildings and into hordes of enemies is palpable and adds a dimension of realism to an arguably goofy premise. And because it’s a feature film, the turtles are finally allowed the full usage of their weapons. There is no blood, but the attacks and force used with the weaponry does evoke the caution “dangerous sharp objects.” Unfortunately, the human characters suffer. While I can definitely see the influence of designer Jeff Matsuda (Jackie Chan Adventures, The Batman) in them, the transition to 3-D has simplified the designs to the point where they look as though they were taken from earlier drafts of Pixar’s The Incredibles.

Don’t let the trailers trick you into thinking the movie will be populated with immature potty humor and inane “your mom” style jokes; mercifully, the trailer includes all the jokes of that type that are in the movie itself. When the dialogue wants to be funny, it is. When the drama kicks in, you feel it. This isn’t Shakespeare, but it is coherent and damn entertaining.

The only real issue I have with the plotting is the use of the monsters. Most of them play little part, serving mostly as montage fodder while the re-animated stone generals hunt them down. We don’t even see all thirteen of them; the rest have probably been held off for action figure or video game use. The Narrator also hints that they have been plaguing mankind since their arrival, which is perhaps a holdover from a plot element that was edited out at some point.

The voice acting is serviceable. Some Asian accents are a little too rough, even though they fit the characters. However, I would have preferred if the movie had used the voices from the recent 4Kids show rather than going for sound-alikes. I’m also offended on behalf of voice actors everywhere that Kevin Smith gets billed over every single member of the main cast for his four-line role as “Diner Cook”.

TMNT is an enjoyable adventure that preaches strength in brotherhood and manages to deliver plenty of amazing action sequences all while not insulting the intelligence of the audience.

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