Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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We live in a time where Disney has a monopoly on my childhood. They are cross-generational and influential into all things I enjoyed in media growing up. I was raised on the classic animated films, then introduced to new ones like Aladdin and The Lion King. Eventually, they jumped into the future by using Pixar to make them even more relevant than they were. As time went on, they began to scour the back catalog of franchises by purchasing Lucasfilm, Marvel, and The Muppets. Now, the product they produce across all their brands is somehow superior to most other things.

Then there is Platinum Dunes. Rather than create an authentic extension of a pre-existing franchise, they dress up a dirty hooker to look like my childhood. They make their trailers seem edgy and modern. I have been let down by them, and with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they continue down their path. This is not the action packed techno-opera I was hoping for.

I was born at the perfect time for the marketing machine of the Ninja Turtles. I was too young for the GI Joe and Transformers cartoons, and too old for Power Rangers. I was 4 when the teenaged mutant dudes jumped on the screen with their gross pizza and eclectic rogues gallery. I was there for it all. It was a perfect storm, really. Most cartoons are simply commercials for toys. What made the Turtles so different though, was the marketing machine didn't exploit the popularity of the show, it enhanced it. It made the viewing experience better. Never before has such a time existed. Then, it wasn't just toys -- it was clothes, cereal and snacks, a rock concert, and a film trilogy.

The original film had a unique distinction of being the most profitable independent film at that point in time. It wasn't backed by a large studio, and had no real key actors on screen. It was also dark and gritty. Sure, the Turtles didn't look great by any stretch, but the suspension of disbelief made it a magical time. One of my fondest memories as a child was my dad taking me to see it when it hit theatres. Even now, if I were to watch the film, I know there would be something about it that would still hold up.

The sequels were not as magical and were certainly rushed to capitalize. And for that, they suffer a bit with time. Numerous revamps of the show have happened, none of which have ever been able to hold my attention. I didn't mind the CGI film that was released in the post-millennium, but it lacked the magic of the original series and film. When they finally announced the inevitable reboot, I was skeptical but enthusiastic.

Like a forgotten verse of "Cats in the Cradle", I was sure to take my son to the premiere of this modernized take on my childhood heroes. Right from the start of our trip I realized we lived in a different time. He didn't even feel like going to the theatre and pleaded that I let him go play with his friend at the park, but I wasn't having any of that! He was my surrogate into this modern childhood. I had memories to relive and I won't let a 7-year-old of all people stand in my way.

I don't hate Michael Bay, and it is important to note he wasn't a director on this picture, but rather a producer with a very obvious strong-arm. His production company, however, did stand in the way of me reliving my glory days. Although I don't like the Transformers movies, I can appreciate the effort that goes into trying to be authentic to the original cartoon by bringing back certain voice actors and the like. In this movie, there were no moments of that. There are a few borrowed themes from the original film such as Raph's desire to be a loner, or April meeting the Turtles in a Subway terminal. There was also a moment in the final show-down with Shredder that mirrored the end of the 1990 classic. Other than that, there wasn't much that put me into a time machine.

The look of the Turtles I thought worked well. I enjoyed their stature and the work that went into making them unique. This is certainly an improvement from past iterations. But the CGI/Motion Capture thing just cheapens the whole experience. I am a firm believer in boundaries; it is what keeps things grounded. What makes films from pre-1998 so special was the fact that it cost a lot of money and took a lot of time and resources to use computers in post-production. This forced directors to be creative and tell a decent story first, while delivering a beautiful visual second. Now, with modern methods, a film can be created entirely in post-production and can even be cheaper to do so. The fight scenes with the ridiculous Shredder really showcase this and it pulls you out of the moment.

The only actor I thought really brought it was Will Arnett as a perfect casting choice for Vernon. While I never had a problem with Megan Fox as April, it was never what I deemed to be the best casting choice. Emma Stone, Kate Mara, Kat Dennings, or Cobie Smulders would have all made better choices. The voice actors were fine, but Raph was the only one I felt really hit a home run.

The other thing that pulled me out of the story was the score. It was always in "glory mode" and felt like there was never a tranquil moment. It was jarring after a while, and watered down any light-heartedness the movie wanted to showcase.

Overall, this was a difficult movie for me to sit through. I wish it was me mistaking my 3D glasses for rose coloured goggles, but it isn't. I fully accepted that this movie wasn't made for me, it was made for my son and his generation. My role is to bankroll the night out and to chaperone and reminisce about what was the true Ninja Turtles. But my son even had a hard time staying engaged. It takes a while to take off, and when it does, it flies well below expectations.

Tags: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michael Bay, Megan Fox, Will Arnett

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