On Sunday night, a friend of mine recanted his experience of seeing TMNT, the digitally-animated follow up to the three live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films that were released in the early/mid-’90s. As he put it, he walked into the theater and was greeted by the ingratiating sound of children yelping and hollering with their parents solemnly sitting shotgun. Being nostalgic for his days of Turtle fandom, he sat down and noticed four other men of post-college age waiting in the tangle web of toddlers. There was a sense of comradery there as they all realized, for better or for worse, they were there simply for nostalgia.
This was also my feeling while viewing the first incarnation of Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo to come around in ten-plus years. There was no critical lens through which I chose to watch it; it simply satisfied something that was missing. Everyone has one: Another friend expressed that he had enjoyed Ghost Rider on the basic terms of it’s, as he put it, ‘bad-assery.’
With its latest installment, the Turtles find themselves without a leader. Leonardo has been sent to Central America to study leadership techniques to more properly head the TMNT team (slightly absurd given Hunter College is a 30-minute subway ride from where the Turtles live). As well, Donatello has taken a computer repair job, Michelangelo has become a party host for birthdays, and Raphael has donned a metal suit and gone on protecting NYC in the guise of ‘The Nightwatcher.’ When Leo is coaxed back by April O’Neil (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), he finds his team in shambles, hardly in shape to take on tycoon Max Winters (voiced by Patrick Stewart). See, Winters has brought back four generals from 3000 years ago to banish a plague of 13 monsters that were released when a powerful warlord found the secret to immortality; as it happens, Winters is the warlord that released them.
Though one pines for the 2D-animated glory of the television series and comic books that were popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s, director Kevin Munroe hasn’t done a half-bad job bringing the Turtles into the new century. As kid’s fodder, TMNT is proficient, giving enough entertainment to inspire a new wave of idols and ample space for sequels. Sure, one could gripe that the radical theme music has been ditched, the pizza devouring has been kept to a minimum, and it doesn’t live up to the first live-action film in darkness and violence. Don’t even get me started on the lack of Krang here.
What TMNT supplies is a reason. A reason to reinvigorate the series, to remember one’s youth and to spend an afternoon with your son, daughter, niece, or nephew. Past that, it’s nothing more than a slightly darker kid’s movie (the fight between Raphael and Leonardo has pretty dark tones, regardless of age). Remember the way the newest King Kong remake reduced everyone to eye-popping adolescence? TMNT does the same thing except on a much more select scale; call me biased. Word has it that a similar technique will be employed for the next Ghostbusters movie. Count me in.
Shredder couldn’t be bothered to show up.