Saturday, February 02, 2008

TMNT - a memory comes alive

It's alive ... again. Well, they are, as a matter of fact: Leonard (with the blue mask), Michelangelo (with the yellow mask), Donatello (with the purple mask) and Raphael (with the red mask). The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Can't remember them? Then you're either not interested in animation, a few years younger than me or a few years older. The Turtles are a phenomena of my generation, I guess - just like "Yu-Gi-Oh!" today.

I can still remember when I first watched the original animated series. (there have been various 'real' movies, an newer animated series and a series with 'real' characters that always reminded me of a "Power Rangers" spin-off.) It was in French T.V. (just as "Jem", "Saint Seiya", "Sailor Moon", "Dragonball", "Fist of the Northern Star", "Beverly Hills Teens", "Cat's Eye" and various others). At that time I got a lot of my animated fun in French, the only useful purpose my school French ever served, apart from the four days we spent in Paris when I was in tenth grade (still, not very good with that language).

So I was all the more surprised when I first heard about the new CGI movie. But, on the other hand, CGI is a dangerous topic. Some movies are great (I love "Shrek" 1-3 and I was really floored by "Final Fantasy VII - Advent Children") while others aren't very good. After watching the movie, I can say that "TNMT" mostly belongs in the category "good".

But before I write about the technical stuff (and the looks and animations of a CGI movie are technical stuff for me), some more background.

In the sewers of New York a strange liquid, aptly named Ooze, changes the lives of four baby turtles and a ninja master on the run. The Ooze lets them all mutate, the turtles become more human and the ninja master gains some rat traits. (In the real-action movies Splinter once was the ninja master's rat, but as far as I remember, in the animated series the ninja master himself was turned into a rat.) Splinter, as the man (or his pet, it's not that important) now calls himself, takes the four baby mutant turtles in and raises them, teaching them the secrets of the ninja fighting techniques and naming them after his four most favourite painters: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. Years later, the four turtles have almost reached adulthood and human height. They have become good fighters - which is useful when an old enemy of their master comes to town. The man calls himself Shredder and always hides his face behind the face-mask of a helmet. He founds the Foot gang and tries to take over control. Around the same time the adventurous reporter April O'Neal meets with the Turtles and becomes a good friend. The fight begins.

After oodles of episodes the original series came to an end. Head villain Shredder was defeated and everything was well in New York. Well, at least as well as it can get in New York, of course.

More than one year later (because Leonardo has been away for more than a year) a lot has changed. April, for one thing, has stopped working as a reporter, instead she seems to hunt down and sell antiquities. And she has a relationship going with Casey Jones (who, with a hockey mask and a baseball bat, tried to be a hero of New York, too, and teamed up with the Turtles every now and then). Leonardo has been more or less 'lost' in the South-American jungle, Michelangelo works as some kind of party clown (in a turtle costume, what else?), Donatello works as a phone-in helpdesk (he was always the technician, inventor and 'brain' of the group) and Raphael spends his days sleeping (because he's about all night in the disguise of the mysterious hero "Nightwatcher"). Splinter is worried about his sons, he has not had any contact with Leonardo (the team leader) for quite a while.

Then April stumbles across Leonardo, who plays the helpful ghost for various small villages in the jungle, and tells him about things back home. Even though he turns his back at her at first, he returns to New York. And then the movie really starts, so I'll stop telling you what happened.

Technically, the Turtles and Splinter really benefit from the CGI technology. The real-action characters always looked strange (as even a mutated turtle doesn't really have a human build by nature). The CGI Turtles, on the other hand, look good and move smooth - very important for four fighters.

The looks of the human characters on the other hand are strange. They remind me of "The Incredibles" by Pixar/Disney. (Max Winter, an important character, almost has the same profile as the father of that family of super-heroes. And the monsters look strange enough to work for "Monster Inc.".) But the characters fit with the story, on the whole. Realistic looks fit with movies like "Final Fantasy VII" (and if you only know "The Force within", no, you haven't missed five more movies, "FF VII" was the most successful of the games and the movie continues the story). The whole idea about four human-sized turtles fighting crime and villains in New York is everything but realistic - and I've never seen them move so smooth, even in the animated series. After all, the standards for animated actions have risen quite a lot since the early 90s.

On the whole, I really like "TMNT". The story is good, the animations and looks fit with the background. The look could be a little bit more realistic and less cartoon-like, especially for the humans, but I can live with that.

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