Dear Michael Bay,
Just because you were able to turn one Saturday cartoon series for children into a PG-13 blockbuster, based on nostalgia on the part of its now-teen and 20-something audience and some world class special effects, does not mean that you can do the same with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is less “Transformer” and more “Yogi Bear” or “Scooby-Doo.” In other words, step away from “Shirt Tales” and “The Wuzzles.” Please, just stop. Sincerely, The Movie Mom
Before it wore or, or, more accurately, wore down its welcome, the original “Transformers” was a refreshing surprise that kept the spirit of the original series. But even as a cartoon show, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were meta and self-referential and cutesy. I mean, just look at the concept: they’re turtles. And ninjas. And teenagers. You can blow them up into CGI behemoths, but they still can’t make a movie work, even by bringing back the original star of the first “Transformers” movie, Megan Fox.
Fox plays April O’Neil, a would-be investigative reporter relegated by her condescending colleagues to cutesy stories like exercising on mini-trampolines in Times Square. She would much rather be reporting on a powerful and merciless gang of criminals known as the Foot Clan. No one believes her when she says she saw a super-strong vigilante in the shadows, fighting the Foot Clan, including her editor (a “what is she doing in this movie?” Whoopi Goldberg). It turns out she has a connection to this mysterious crime-fighter. Her father was a scientist who died in a tragic lab accident as he was working on a special strength-giving serum by injecting it into four young turtles. The night the lab burned down, April rescued the turtles and a rat by letting them escape into the sewer.
A handy martial arts manual found in the sewer gives the rat, known as Splinter (voice of “Monk’s” Tony Shaloub) the chance to train the young turtles, and the effects of the injections make them grow up to be large, muscular, and able to stand upright. Each of the four has a different color mask and a Smurf-like individual personality quirk. But they all love pizza.
The action scenes are well-staged, especially a snowy chase scene, though I have no idea where the snow came from as we only see snow outside the city. But the script is lame and the violence is too intense for anyone old enough to be interested. A slumming William Fitchner plays an industrialist who is not as philanthropic as he seems. And the scenes with an even-more slumming Will Arnett (what happened to his career?), whose two functions are to drive April around and be generally skeezy about his interest in her, are just painful. April strives to be taken seriously as a journalist. Fox, sadly, fails to be taken seriously as an actress (which she really is — see “This is 40”).
And the title characters are under-used as well. For a movie about the TMNTs, they just don’t have enough to do beyond loving pizza and kicking bad guys. Whatever charm existed in the original cartoons is trampled by this over-blown bore.
Parents should know that this film includes cartoon-style action, peril, and violence, sad off-screen death of a parent, some brief disturbing images, some crude humor and a brief potty joke.
Family discussion: Why didn’t anyone take April seriously? Which turtle is your favorite and why?
If you like this, try: the TMNT cartoon series and the earlier films