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Feature


Thousands of years ago a great warrior dipped his sword into a magical stream of power, thus gaining eternal life, but at a price. His comrades were all turned to stone in the process and thirteen monsters escaped from the inter-dimensional abyss. Now the semi-retired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will have to overcome their differences and work as team to stop this tyrant from coming back into power.

TMNT
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a part of my life I cannot ignore. The original, guys in rubber suits movie was an important earmark in the last chapter of my childhood, and one of the few pre-teen favourites I can still watch without shaking my head in personal disgust. I watched the revamped cartoon series during lunch breaks with a keen sense of suspicion, but was pleasantly surprised by its more down to Earth take on these outmoded characters, and when the word of a computer animated film based on these new adventures reached my ears I thought it sounded like a pretty good idea, though not one I was willing to pay theatre prices to see.

To my delight, this new movie gets off on the right, two-toed foot by not starting from scratch. Folks from my generation already know these characters from watching their original adventures, and the kiddies watching will know the characters from the new series, from which this film takes all its cues. It takes about fifteen minutes for all of us that haven't been paying attention to the new series to catch up, but it beats another origin story, and shows much needed faith in the audience's general intelligence level. If mom and dad can't keep up that's their problem.

TMNT
Writer/director Kevin Munroe takes these familiar characters and updates their characteristics without recreating them. Leonardo still leads, Donatello still does machines, Raphael is still cool, and still rude, and Michelangelo is of course, still a party dude. The difference is that now Leonardo has huge issues with his self esteem, Donatello is thanklessly stuck as a computer company customer service rep, Raphael has become a violent masked vigilante, and Michelangelo is... well he's pretty much the same. The Leo/Raph in-fighting that is the emotional thrust of the plot is a bit old hat, especially considering it was one of the main themes of the original live action film, the later Eastman and Laird comics, and both cartoon series, but this time it does carry quite a bit of emotional weight.

This isn't quite the hard 'R' Ninja Turtle film I've been waiting for since childhood (oh yeah, I’m serious), but it has its share of dark moments, and the violence has a strong ‘PG’ edge (if it was a live action feature it'd probably be ‘PG-13’). The plot isn't particularly rich in detail, but the script is clever enough, low on bad one-liners, and filled with moments of real poignancy and good humour. We're not talking Pixar level heart-warmth or smarts, and there are plenty of lazy conveniences throughout that push the story at slight too break-neck a pace (almost all thirteen of the monsters are found in minutes, in montage, and their presence adds up to little more than a slap-dash Macguffin), but it's pretty damn good for an independent animated feature based on characters that were created by two guys desperate to pay the rent in the mid '80s.

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But back to the violence. In all honesty TMNT may be the best action film I've seen this year. At the very least, it without a doubt contains the best fight choreography I've seen this year. I regret not seeing it on the big screen. Munroe and his animators know that these characters need to be three dimensional, and the story special, but the reason people are going to pay to see a Ninja Turtle animated adventure is the sceptical. The fight scenes are downright invigorating, and they just keep coming. It's more than worth the price of admission, at least a matinee or rental.

Video


As should be expected from a digital source DVD, TMNT looks nearly perfect. Colours pop, details are sharp (sometimes to the film's detriment), blacks are rich, and highlights are bright without bleeding. Unlike some more 'high-end' releases, there is some compression noise, more specifically in warm colours. Sometimes the high detail levels lead to slight edge enhancement and blocking, but all is more or less well here. I'm sure that the Blu-ray release is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

TMNT

Audio


Sometimes animated films with low to medium budgets forget the importance of layering sound to create a believable sound-scape. The sound designers behind TMNT did not have that problem, nor do they shy away from using the stereo and surround channels. This is a very lively mix, and everything within is perfectly clear. When the virtual camera is immersed in a fight sequence the channels are aggressive and well balanced. Above all the noise dialogue is clear without sounding canned, and the voice performances shine. The musical score, which is a little derivative, is very successful in mixing rock and symphonic styles. Klaus Badelt's (who is no mere pushover) sweeping hero moments remind me a bit of James Newton Howard's work on The Fugitive.

Extras


Writer/director Kevin Monroe supplies commentary for just about every feature on this disc, whether you like it or not. The first of these commentaries is the one that accompanies the film itself. Monroe is well prepared and personable, and gives the track an even amount of technical expertise, fan-boy build-up, and occasional self-deprecation.

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The majority of the disc’s other extras are deleted scenes, which are presented under various headings within too many menus. Monroe’s commentary track is most often the only track available, even though a production track can be heard in the background. I don’t think this was a good idea. Even though the commentary is welcome, the scratch dialogue would’ve been better, and could’ve been easily included as an alternate track.

The deleted/alternate/extended scenes total six. First is an alternate opening, presented in storyboard form only. This opening would’ve been slick, and perhaps have supplied more back data for audience newbies, but it slightly eschews the villain’s back-story. An alternate ending follows, which is in a rough animated form, and features a bit more closure than the one ending that made final cut.

Next is a deleted birthday party scene, which is made up of finished animation and voice work (from what I can tell), and though it would’ve slowed the opening I wish it would’ve remained part of the final film. The scene is continued in another deleted sequence entitled Splinter Gets Cake, which is also cute, and also features finished animation. Another completed sequence is an alternate version of Casey Jones and Raphael meeting on the roof.

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A rooftop work out sequence is run twice, once as storyboards, and again as rough animation, and it is accompanied by a ‘fight test’ which mirrors Raph and Leo’s fisticuff in the final film. More storyboard comparisons follow.

There are three production featurettes, all made to sell the series. One is all technically based, another is an elongated trailer for the Internet, and the final is a series of brief interviews with the voice talent.

Overall


Boxofficemojo.com estimates the production budget at $34 million, which is about $116 million less than Ratatouille, and about $126 million less than Shrek the Third. Sometimes the lower budget shows, usually in the human characters, sometimes in a lack of texture, but the animation itself is technically very well done and the animators do a great job of adding production value by utilizing a lot of dynamic camera movement. When medium budget animation is this successful in action and at the box office, the possibility of truly adult animated films seeing the light of day in a U.S. theatre becomes a real possibility, and as an adult fan of animation I find this an exciting step. Name recognition is important, but taking in more than $30 million in the world box office is a very real possibility.


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