What started out in 1984 as a parody of the popularized "X-Men" mutant hero theme and the Frank Miller comics such as "Daredevil" and "Ronin", the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" were one of the first breakaway success stories for independent comics. But it wasn’t until the characters were picked up and developed as a campy animated series with a complete line of toys to sell, that the mutant turtles became a pop culture phenomenon. And here it is over twenty years later and a few weeks after "300", the latest movie adaptation of a Frank Miller comic was released,– and what should follow but a reinvention of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" which arrives in theaters.
The new movie re-invents the characters in a fully 3D computer animated universe and the result works surprisingly well. The look of the movie more closely resembles original black and white comics that started the turtles off than any of the subsequent cartoons or the live-action movies that had been made. And while there’s no mistaking that "TMNT" is a movie geared for kids, the fans of the comic will appreciate the pen and ink feel it takes on, especially as the Turtles patrol the city at night.
The movie’s timeline appears to happen after the last live action movie, with the shelled brothers struggling to make their way in the world since they retired from fighting crime. They still love pizza, skateboarding and battling ninja’s, and offer a few surprises. The rooftop showdown between Leonardo and Raphael is a highlight of the film and hints at a deeper complexity to the turtles than what you’d expect.
And "TMNT" has its flaws, Splinter looks more like a snack food character than the wise rat leader of the turtles. And in a case where the celebrity casting works against the story, I had a hard time disassociating the image of Professor X or Picard while watching the "TMNT" villain in action. Patrick Stewart’s recognizable voice sounds strange coming from a character that is so different than who you expect to see speaking. At times, the movie feels like a videogame in action, and you almost wish you could play the movie instead of watching it.
Sure, "TMNT" is popcorn fluff designed to sell action figures to a new generation of fans, but the movie turns out to be better than you would think. And while most people associate the Turtles with the overboard marketing machine that steamrollered the public in the late eighties and early nineties, Kevin Eastman’s and Peter Laird’s characters remain an inspiring example of how the independent publishing movement can pay off.
Hoping for more adaptations of self published comics, for Movie Magazine this is Purple.
© 2007 - Purple - Air Date: 3/21/07
Hong Kong / USA - 2007