Heroes in an unrecognizable half-shell
In a recent article in Entertainment Weekly, one of the producers of TMNT said that he hopes that this film will not only bring in new fans to the brand but bring back some of the old ones as well. Those original fans are 20-somethings with self-earned money to spent. The only problem with the latter portion of the theory is that for the older fans of the heroes in a half shell, there needs to be a sense of nostalgia to latch on to. They didn't even play the theme song!!! First of all, if you are my age, you've neither heard it called TMNT, nor have you or your friends referred to it as such. The new title is just the first in a long line of rebranding efforts hoping to update a 20-year-old cartoon.
Moreover, in this latest incarnation the only similarities to the original cartoon are the Turtles themselves. The "supporting cast" are all strangers. April, for one, used to be the sweet journalist who might as well have been the girl next door. Now she's a karate kicking archaeologist glamazon who doesn't seem to have any room for her organs in her tiny tummy. Furthermore, Casey now looks like a Japanamation Backstreet Boy and Splinter reminds me of a cross between Mr. Miagi and my 7th grade rabbi.
The animation is impressive, that's for sure, but it doesn't seem as though movie makers have quite caught on to the idea that no matter how cool the movie looks, if a strong story isn't there to back it up, the whole thing will fall flat. In TMNT, the script doesn't stick to one easy to follow plot. It's even hard to describe what the movie is about. I can tell you that Leonardo was out in jungles of South America finding himself when he encounters April on an expedition. He comes back to rejoin his brothers and save New York City from monsters that have been let loose by an immortal warlord who needs to send the monsters back through a time portal so he can regain his mortality and finally die after thousands of years...or something like that. There isn't much in the way of a three act narrative and there are so many conflicts that the viewer never really knows what is going to be the climax or the most significant incident.
Even though things were different I did like seeing those mischievous turtles again. To a certain extent it did bring me back hearing the Cowabungas and seeing all the pizza. Michelangelo was always my favorite because he was such a ham, and all the things I loved about him then were present in this movie. Raphael and Leonardo were at each other's throats more than I would have liked to see and Donatello was just trying to keep the peace and Splinter is, as always, always the moral center attempting to keep everything under control.
Culturally, this movie makes an interesting comment on the state of America in terms of what we allow our children to see. It is counter intuitive to what one might have thought. Most of our popular culture aimed at children is modest when it comes to sexual practices and liberal in the allowance of violence. However, any human on human (or human on turtle) violence is restrained whereas the audience discovers (in yet another unresolved plotline) that April and Casey live together and are romantically involved despite the fact that they are unmarried. It's hard to know why the story even includes this mention, because it is never developed, and ultimately it just seems out of place.
In the end, if this film does create a new generation of fans of the turtles, they would be fans of the new TMNT, not of the old school amphibians who Gen-Yers loved when they were kids. The original fans will find this flick filled with foreign, unrecognizable characters with a hard to follow story line. I say skip this one and rent the old-school movies and TV shows.