Deep in the underground sewers of New York City, live a group of bio-genetically created Turtles. Trained by a Rat; they are Martial Arts Masters, all named after the great Renaissance Artists. Their quest: Unknown, apart from the consumption of Pizza, obviously.
Released in 2007, TMNT is a computer animated movie directed by Kevin Munroe about the Teenage Ninja’s who happen to also be Mutant Turtles. Whilst not the biggest release of 2007 (by quite some distance), nor the biggest animated movie release of 2007 (again by quite some distance), TMNT does come with a good level of charm both nostalgically and creatively and on the whole is not a bad movie by miles; although it is a very confusing one.
It’s sort of hard to explain where this movie begins because it’s not all that clear where it’s spawning off from. The Wikipedia page to this film states that it is loosely connected to the “original 1990-1993 trilogy”, although does not provide links to that trilogy, you have to go and search it for yourself. Now whilst I would in many situations be ok with that statement, I find it a hard one to accept as though whilst the page suggests just that, quite a bit of the film’s style, art, and storytelling suggests otherwise; looking more like a follow-up to the then recent Animated TV series which started in 2003. It was due to me being a fan of that series which led me to the cinema to go watch the film in the first place. Now whilst I probably will go on to debate some of these points in detail a little later, if you need any current convincing to suggest that this film is closely related to the 2003 tv series, well, just watch the opening intro to that tv series which features the letters TMNT across the city skyline.
So, with the whole issue of how this film spins off completely up in the air, the film then goes into it’s main story. The plot revolves around an ancient Warrior (Patrick Stewart) who thousands of years ago opened up a portal into another dimension. By opening this portal, several creatures were released into the world, and his family were turned into stone. Back in the present day, the warrior has found a way to re-animate his family, and has charged the Foot Clan to find the monsters. Meanwhile, the Turtles; whilst mostly still living together, have gone in separate career directions since defeating their arch nemesis: The Shredder. Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) has gone to Central America to train, Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) has become an IT helpdesk specialist, Raphael (Nolan North) has become a night time vigilante, and Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) has become a children’s entertainer.
The film on the whole feels longer than it actually is and for the most part stays on point; but does jump from scene to scene very rapidly. Whilst the main plot of the film revolves around the ancient warrior and the monsters; at times it can feel that this is merely just filler to everything else. Where the opening introduction ends, is sort of where the sub plot begins. Now whilst the sub plot then takes on some form, the main plot just sort of hangs around in the background, creating moments and scenes which while originally including the turtles then go on to create a montage of clips with not one turtle in sight. It’s not until the film is within reach of the final act do the Turtles cotton on as to what has been happening all this time, and whose behind it. It’s then only in the final battle situations do the turtles sort of return to it.
It is confusing as to which side is the main story for this film, as while all that was taking place, their is a clash of personal problems happening in the sewers. The film’s suggestion of Leo going away for a while to then come back home to his brothers, – from the suggestion of April (Sarah Michelle Gellar) – creates a story of strained relationships surrounding the turtles, especially the relationship between Leonardo and Raphael. Raphael who was happy as a hero of the city it would suggest, has turned to become a vigilante, not taking a turtle form, but as a steel clad Batman-like figure. The very talk and mention of this character does bring up some questions as to how bright some of the other characters are, due to Raphael constantly defending the character, whilst Leonardo continues to belittle the character, only discovering who the mysterious vigilante’s real identity is after knocking his helmet off. This level of smarts in the character can really be questioned as even Casey (Chris Evans) instantly knows it’s Raphael just by the vigilante’s shape. The story though between Raphael and Leonardo is pretty enriching to the film, as whilst all the other stuff is going on, we have this deep rooted rivalry between these two constantly brewing in the foreground which in turn leads to some of the more stand out moments of the film, especially in the personal scene between Raphael and Splinter (Mako), where Splinter tells Raphael how much he means to him and how Raphael’s qualities are so admirable.
The film’s story on the whole is a bit head itching as it can look as being one thing, then appear to be something else entirely. If you were to imagine a movie story as being like a sandwich, an overly complicated story would be like one of the iconic sandwiches in an episode of Scooby Doo, it’s got too much packed into it, and if you try to get your mouth around it you will struggle. In this instance, this film would be a slice of bread with a sprinkle of cheese and then thrown in the air. It’s not a bad story, and there’s not too much sub plot taking over, it’s just a little thin. With it’s constant swapping over, it can feel like one side has become rather diluted, and then after some time has passed, it throws mention of it back in, as if to say ‘this is still going on!’
The story though is not the most confusing part to this film, that comes in the form of where this film finds its place. Whilst other media suggests it comes hot (by about 14 years) off the heels of the original movie trilogy; to me, that does not seem all that accurate. Whilst the film points out that the Shredder has been defeated by the turtles, whilst that may be true of the original movies, it could also be argued that is was the same for the 2003 series as the film was released less than a year after season five of the TV series which featured the defeat of The Shredder. OK, I didn’t get to see this ending myself as the UK stopped showing these episodes, but it’s from my research and discovery as a fan that I was able to find out. Plus, subsequent seasons of the show suggest a new location and organisation of the entire plot and setting.
It’s not just in the detail of the Shredder’s defeat where this film creates confusion, as the art style of the film also causes some doubt. For one the design of the turtles in this film version look smaller and thinner than their respective appearances in both the original movie trilogy, and in the 2003 tv series where they looked a bit chunkier. It’s not just them though. The style of their hideout looks similar to the 2003 series, and the design and appearance of both Casey and Karai (Ziyi Zhang) look like a spot on match to their 2003 appearances. Additionally, it’s sort of hard to take seriously that there was this giant Asgard like building in downtown New York all this time, and yet we never saw it in the TV series.
TMNT has it’s issues as a film. The story is thin, the setting in the universe is unsatisfactorily explained, it’s lighting is a bit too shady, and so on; but that doesn’t take away from the rather more positive experience you’ll most likely take away from watching this film. It has it’s issues, but it makes up for them in telling a very personal story creating drama in an action packed story. The fight scenes are pretty cool, the monster designs are really imaginative, and the soundtrack (especially the end scene and following credits) are heroic in composure but also spine tingling and inspiring. Altogether it is a pretty weird film and whilst not the most talked about animated film of 2007, that does not make it the worst; not by quite some distance.