DVD Release Date:  August 7, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  March 23, 2007
Rating:  PG (or animated and action violence, some scary cartoon images and mild language)
Genre:  Children’s Animation
Run Time:  87 min.
Director:  Kevin Munroe
Actors:  (Voices of) Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Marko, Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ziti Yang and Laurence Fishburne (narrator)

“Before the Internet, before cell phones, before roller-blades, there was a time ... 1985.  Don't pretend you don't remember.”

Ah, The Wedding Singer—a great movie.  Unfortunately, it is not that film to which I refer.  It’s TMNT, or the “teenage mutant ninja turtles,” and the year was actually 1984 when these cartoon warriors were first invented.  Now, rather inexplicably, they’ve been resurrected from their cinematic grave yet again (there were two not-so-great sequels in the ‘90s), two decades after being the “it” reptiles of children’s television and movies.  Why?  No doubt, to market more junk to another generation of unsuspecting kids and gullible parents. 

This time, the warriors are in full CGI, and the animation isn’t bad at all.  They have green frog skin and animated faces, and I like the details—like the rain falling into puddles.  Unfortunately, however, the plot isn’t particularly creative.  And yet, bizarrely, it still manages to be somewhat convoluted:

“Four brothers, genetically reborn in the sewers of New York, named after the great Renaissance masters, and trained as ‘ninjas.’  They battled many creatures and foes before defeating their foe, the Shredder.  But now a greater evil is poised to destroy their greater brotherhood—an evil born 3,000 years ago.  It was in that time that a warrior came who fought side by side with one purpose—to conquer all the kingdoms of the world.  Nothing could stand in their way, and they left a trail of destruction behind.”

“This is scary,” said my five- (but going-on-seven-) year-old daughter, interrupting the film’s narrative.  “I’m not scared,” said her six-year-old friend, a boy. 

I stopped taking notes.  As Laurence Fishburne narrated this doom-and-gloom back story, a metal-clad warrior with glowing red eyes was leading an army sporting terrifying weapons into battle.  The trombone-heavy score was thundering a deadly a warning.  The warriors raised their weapons and marched forward, their eyes filled with murderous intent. 

Hamm, I thought.  What age is this movie aimed at again? 

“In his quest, the warrior learned of a constellation.  Every 3,000 years the stars would align, opening the portal to a world of unknown power.  He became immortal—but at a price.  His brotherhood was turned to stone.  And upon the portal’s opening, 13 monsters were released into our world.  The warrior king was left to eternally walk the earth, unable to die, lest he forget his horrible mistake.  And the monsters who were unleashed continued to plague mankind to this very day.”

Don’t worry, because of course the ninjas save the world.  But, you know, they’re just not the turtles they used to be.  At the insistence of their rat “sensei,” Splinter (the late Mako) has sent Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) away for training.  For some reason, this really annoys brother Raphael (Nolan North), creating a lot of tension between the two.  Raph has stayed home, where he’s been fighting crime as a one-man vigilante called "The Nightwatcher.”  Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) has become "Cowabunga Carl,” entertaining children for pay.  And Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) is a tech support geek.

Most of the action centers around Leonardo and Donatello, with the other crime fighters taking a back seat to the action, along with a superfluous archaeologist/martial artist named April (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her live-in boyfriend, the baseball-wielding Casey Jones (Chris Evans).  But who, exactly, is the villain?  In the first part of the film, it’s Maximillian Winters (Patrick Stewart), a millionaire who is building an army of stone warriors.  Later, it’s the 13 monsters.  Then it's the brother’s old enemy Karai (Ziyi Zhang) and her sidekicks.  So, even though the action is very violent, with plenty of weapons and murder – which makes it inappropriate for small children—the film’s ambling plot actually seems geared to younger children, who won’t question the discrepancies.

As with the ’90s live action films, the dialogue aims for down-to-earth humorous.  “Don, why don’t we have jet packs?” says Leo.  “Hey, I don’t even trust you with a driver’s license.”  “Oh, someone’s cranky!” he replies.  In the end, however, it’s a film that feels haphazardly thrown together, and which reflects the inexperience of first-time writer/director Kevin Munroe.

From a spiritual perspective, references to Eastern religions abound.  The story also has an occult feel to it, with both the monsters and the warriors acting like demons and talk of power coming from another “world.”  On the other hand, the ninjas do fight evil.  Not only that, but their leader does not allow them to fight unless they maintain perfect unity.  The film ends with the following message:

“We live together.  We train together.  We fight together.  We stand for good—together.  We are ninjas.  We strike hard—defend, protect and fade into the night.  And there ain’t no bad guy who’s ever gonna change that.  That’s what’s important, and that’s why we’ll always be brothers.”  It’s a lesson the church would do well to heed.  In the meantime, caveat emptor.

AUDIENCE:  Children 6 or older

DVD EXTRAS:

  • Commentary by writer/director Kevin Munroe
  • Alternate Opening (“Splinter Tells the Back Story”)
  • Alternate Ending (with Casey and Abigail)
  • Deleted Scene (Mikey Sneaking Food to Splinter)
  • Side-by-Side Comparison of Storyboards and CGI Action
  •  Interviews with Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Laurence Fishburne and filmmakers
  • Miscellaneous

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  Mild to none.  A character takes the Lord’s name in vain in Spanish (“Dios mio!”); other characters make “yo’ mama” style jokes.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Two unmarried characters live together (although there is no mention or even a hint of sex); two characters kiss; female character’s costume hugs and highlights her breasts.
  • Violence:  Strong.  A martial arts theme runs throughout the film with characters using swords, machetes and daggers to attack and defend themselves, putting many in mortal danger.  Characters also carry and point guns, hit, kick, shove and threaten violence (including a knife to the throat, in one scene).  General mayhem and destruction all around.
  • Spirituality:  A plot that centers around monsters and warriors who have received power from a heavenly “other world,” after the stars and constellations “aligned.”  Various references to Eastern mysticism and religions, such as a character who is a “sensei,” or martial arts expert, and a character who meditates and talks about being “centered,” usually with lit candles surrounding him.  A character is transported into the sky while being transformed into light.