Over a decade since their last outing, everyone’s favorite sewer-dwelling, pizza-eating mutant reptiles are back and in top shape – this time as sleek, computer generated personas. TMNT’s skateboarding reptiles named after art masters, talking master rat, and Michaelangelo’s incessant bad jokes will drive home the nostalgia for any fan of the crime-fighting foursome. The nonstop action, wildly inventive character designs, and impressive computer animation will undoubtedly entertain everyone else.
Taking place after the events of the original films, the brotherhood of ninja turtles is thrown into disarray when Leonardo departs for South America to hone his leadership skills at the behest of their sensei, Splinter. Michaelangelo and Donatello attempt to acquire slightly more “normal” jobs during Leo’s absence, while Raphael, pining for the days of fighting crime, turns to the vigilante justice of his armored alter ego, the Nightwatcher. Upon Leo’s return he is met with animosity by Raphael, and Splinter orders the group not to resume their crime fighting duties until they can once again work as a team. But when the mysterious industrialist, Max Winters (voiced by the instantly discernable Patrick Stewart) hires Karai and her Foot Clan to aid in the acquisition of 12 extremely dangerous ancient beasts, Leonardo is captured by the stone generals of a 3,000 year old army attempting to open a portal to another dimension in order to unleash a demon force capable of destroying the earth (did you honestly expect a more conventional plot from a story concerning talking mutant turtles trained in the ways of a ninja?). Now the remaining turtles, along with the help of their friends Casey Jones and April O’Neil, must band together to defeat the dark forces that threaten civilization.
It’s quite an undertaking to revitalize the cult phenomenon of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, especially after a 14-year film hiatus, but the artists at Imagi Studios have done the adventurous reptiles justice. Highly detailed textures adorn the four heroes’ streamlined models and the added attention to their shells and weaponry elevates the overall result. Outlandish antagonist designs stand out against the rather expected look of the human characters, especially several of the twelve ancient monsters and the four stone generals, whose appearances range from inspired to near-genius. Add to that the ridiculously detailed backgrounds and locations that inhabit the turtles’ New York cityscape and you’ve got an animated visual feast rarely equaled. Perhaps the only disappointing character design was that of the curious Max Winters, who looked suspiciously like a rejected cast member from The Incredibles.
An impressively diverse voice cast lends their talent in creating the turtles’ world with Mitchell Whitfield, James Arnold Taylor, Mikey Kelley, and Nolan North as the teenage heroes while Sarah Michelle Gellar and Chris Evans portray April and Casey. Patrick Stewart is antagonist Max Winters, while everyone from Laurence Fishburne to Zhang Ziyi to Kevin Smith supplies their voices to secondary roles. The late Mako provides Master Splinter with a slightly raspier tone than any of his previous incarnations, which may be harder to accept for die-hard fans, but still adequately fits the wise sensei figure.
While it may appear as if the action never lets up (and it seldom does) an underlying theme of honor, respect, and camaraderie does exist. But enough about that. The action is where TMNT shines and it’s properly attended to as the majority of fans would expect from the ninja turtle universe. Top-notch animation brings the ninjas to life in a way live-action never could, with exaggeratedly agile martial arts moves and over-the-top combat. Fantastic fight sequences abound with colossal battles interspersing intense duels, and the radical camera movements and extreme angles highlight every slice of a sword and swing of a sai. A driving rock soundtrack hurries the action along and tight pacing helps keep the truly bizarre bits of the story from drifting too far astray. Incredible particle effects also enhance each fight sequence, most notably in an extraordinary rooftop duel in the rain where one can’t help but think “Cowabunga, dude.”
Though only a handful of gags will likely induce full-out laughing in adults, the immature quips that dot the screenplay keep the proceedings consistently lighthearted and guarantee fun for audiences of any age. With more than its fair share of spectacular action and adventure, combined with gorgeous visuals and the deft attention to the fundamentals of mutant ninja turtle doctrine, TMNT superbly carries on the legacy of the heroic crime-fighting brotherhood with style and wit to spare.