Fri, Mar 30, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Cowabunga! The Ninja Turtles grow up


Everybody and everything is as richly digitally animated as it should be. No live actor should ever have to share the screen with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

The voice talents are a couple of cuts above what they might be during, say, a cartoon episode. The action is breakneck and practically uninterrupted. We're talking a young boy's dream come true.

Truly, the only thing that should please fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise more would be if admission to the new film TMNT — are you reading me, marketers? — came with a skateboard and a large pepperoni pizza with extra cheese.

It's been 23 years since these odd superheroes sprang from the agile, spoof-minded brains of Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman. So, by now, it should be head scratching to absolutely nobody that the fate of the civilized world rests in the scaly hands -- or perhaps flippers — of ninja turtles Leonardo (voiced by James Arnold Taylor), Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley), Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield), Raphael (Nolan North) and their ultra-wise rat sansei, Splinter (Mako, who died shortly after completing the role).

Our NTs do seem a bit more mature than in previous incarnations (a couple of them are even holding down jobs), and the numbers of uttered "Dudes!" and "Cowabungas!" have trailed off as well. Good thing "TMNT" can also abbreviate to Twentysomething Mutant Ninja Turtles should the boys carry their exploits past the age of acne.

Maturation and unity is the name of the game here. Eldest shellboy Leonardo — who had been sent to Costa Rica to learn leadership — returns to New York to find his brothers fractioned and resentful; a masked vigilante known as the Nightwatcher cleaning up the streets a la Batman; and a new threat to the city. It seems a billionaire is importing ancient statues, hiring hoards of battle ninjas and searching the streets for ancient monsters. Cowabunga, indeed.

Film Notes:

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtleDirector by: Kevin Munroe.Starring: Voices of Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Zhang ZiyiRunning time: 90 minutesTaiwan Release: Today

There is perhaps no voice better suited to a possible megalomaniac than Patrick Stewart ("If you're going to kill me, please do it quickly. I have a shareholders meeting in 10 minutes that I'd rather miss.”) Sarah Michelle Gellar dispatches the turtles' eye-candy sidekick April O'Neill with feisty aplomb, while Chris Evans vocalizes her battle-minded boyfriend, Casey, no doubt because Freddie Prinze Jr. was unavailable.

Not that anybody should be paying any great attention to what's being said given the speed and aggressiveness with which Munroe and supervising animator Kim Ooi go about their business. TMNT slows down just long enough to clue us in to what's going on. Then it's off to un-bloody battle mode once more.

One quibble: This may be unavoidable, but do the filmmakers realize that close-ups of the Ninja Turtles' faces, particularly during — ahem! — emotional scenes, make our heroes look more than a little bit like Muppets?

Be that as it may. TMNT is an action-soaked kick.

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