Review: “TMNT”

Wedged between the “Transformers” of the early 80’s and the “Power Rangers” of the early 90’s, came the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” craze. For some it was a mere fad, but it hit the MTV Generation – those of us (including myself) who’re now in their 20’s and stuck between Generations X and Y – square in the chest.

Now, two decades on comes a CG-animated, PG-rated cartoon feature aimed at reviving the franchise into a modern cash cow. The goal here was obviously to do an adventure that would reinvent the turtles into the darker, modern age to appeal to the more cynical kids of today whilst still holding onto that older fanbase.

However the resulting effort, which surprisingly relies on old fans recall abilities to overcome plot hurdles, undermines its welcome by dumbing down a storyline into something so safe for the kids that it differs little from what’s on Saturday morning television. It’s a cold, thrown together piece that seems rushed and ill-fitting – not exactly a foundation to rebuild a franchise on.

True the animation is much slicker and more professional than anything the old cartoon could dream of, but by today’s standards for a CG-animated feature it is often clunky, whilst any old episode of the show had far more energy, imagination and above all humour that this all too serious and at times self-important flick displays.

Beyond the obvious merchandising spin-offs of course, the film’s story never justifies resurrecting the characters let alone giving them a grand vehicle in which to make their re-emergence. Worse still the quartet, gone from wisecracking teens to dead beat 20-something slackers, seem almost anachronistic and lacking any of that edge which made them cool back in the day.

The overtly dark approach would work had there been rich characterisation or a cohesive story. What we get is a bunch of nonsense about 13 demons (collect ’em all kids) being the key to an immortal conqueror turned businessman breaking a curse. Worse still it only pays slight heed to this darker direction, its PG rating preventing any real exploration into more compelling themes of family dysfunction and vigilante violence – instead substiuting lame skateboarding, supernatural trappings and often confusing loyalty shifting.

Also the four Turtles quite literally blend together personality wise, even the decidedly different Michelangleo, that without the colored eye bands you wouldn’t have a clue who was talking. Splinter (the great Mako) is reduced to spouting cliches, whilst the less said about the humans of the piece the better – Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lucy Liu and Chris Evans turning in dull work, whilst Patrick Stewart has fun with what he can make of the material as the film’s primary villain.

Rather than kickstarting a new franchise, “TMNT” literally sinks it. It plays things far too safe, seems tired to the younger kids, and older audiences will either click to all the nostalgia on display or cry foul that a key cornerstone of their childhood is being summarily urinated upon. Your 8-year-old will no doubt lap it up, but as an old fan of the show myself I found it a cynical and disgusting exercise in merchandising exploitation. If this is what has been done to the Turtles, it makes me worry as to the rape Imagi Studios will probably commit on “Astro Boy” and “Battle of the Planets”.