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Way back in 1987, when the cartoon version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made its way over to the United Kingdom, the title was changed to Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, which made the lyric in the theme song, “heroes in a half shell” redundant and the change was presumably because the term “ninja” was considered too negative or brought visions of too much violence to mind. It begs the question as to whether the sensibilities of the English censors might just be bothered enough to change this film’s title as well.
At least the violence in the television show and the 2014 film is cartoonish in nature and not of the “real” variety featured in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. This caused so many problems in playgrounds across the U.K. that there was talk of taking the program off the air. Add to the fact that most of the moves made by these reptilian heroes would be beyond the capability of most school children the film’s title may be safe in British hands.
This PG-13 rated “kiddy” film, and movie for the not-so-young diehard fans of the older versions of the rat-trained turtles, is not aimed at children under a certain age. Watching the film, there are parts that drag a bit for adults, let alone small kids who definitely will not appreciate so much backstory and dialogue heavy scenes. Mercifully, there are only a few of these. Even if the youngsters are paying attention it is doubtful that they will care that some of the lore has been changed in this reimagining of this verse.
For example Splinter, in the comics, is taught ninjutsu by his master and owner Hamato Yoshi. In this film, he teaches himself and does a pretty good job with it considering the pasting he effortlessly gives the turtles when they fail to toe the line. Another change to the many different versions of the turtle’s own past deal with April O’Neil.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 these violence prone “cartoon” heroes on a half shell, shot with performance capture technology, actually have a deeper connection with April than in any of the previous stories. Nothing else can be said without going into spoiler territory for the older fans but be prepared for things to be a little different.
Vernon Fenwick has a slightly altered persona as well. But again, it will not matter to the younger members of the audience who have not “grown-up” with the turtles in their previous incarnations. A lot of everything else is the same, the four heroes are still named after famous artists for example.
Going back to April O’Neil for a moment, fans will note that Megan Fox is playing the “plucky” reporter. Now that Ms. Fox has obviously been forgiven by Michael Bay for her Hitler comparison, it should be pointed out that in terms of performance, she has not changed a lot from her early days in Transformers. What has changed is her appearance. Looking at footage of the 2003 cartoon big screen adaptation, she looks very different.
Speaking of actors, Whoopi Goldberg plays the “not very nice” boss of Channel 6 news in a cameo. Needless to say, as has been proven time and again, this lady can do no wrong. It was difficult to watch the film and not cry, “more Whoopi,” like the SNL gag, “more cowbell.”
Will Arnett is good as Vernon Fenwick, cameraman and “love interest” for April. William Fichtner is once again cast as a villain, in this case Eric Saks. This 57 year-old actor almost always plays the bad guy, so when April fawns over the man at the start of the movie, one feels like shouting at the screen that she is making a mistake. Overall, regardless of actor pedigrees, “good” pretty much sums up the “real” members of the cast who have large roles in the film, although to be fair Goldberg is a largish cameo, versus a large role.
It is the motion capture turtles who own the film and the CG in this production is excellent. Overall the movie is entertaining enough, even for those ruffled purists who hate the change the film has taken in the origins of the vigilante turtles. (A couple were overheard complaining bitterly that Donatello had been made too ugly amongst other changes that were not too palatable for these two devout fans.)
The action in the film, like the violence, is cartoonish in its execution. The storyline is not intended to mirror real life but is there to tell the comic’s story as envisioned by Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman. The violence is of a “Road Runner vs Wile E Coyote” nature and as such follows that same cartoon logic. Where characters can be sent sailing through the air by a giant, and incredibly strong, ninja turtle and wind up smashing into a cinder block wall hard enough to knock bits out of it and still get back up. Very much akin to having a boulder dropped on the coyote who then survives to chase another day.
Regardless of what backstory the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have and the level of cartoon violence of these half shell heroes, the film will most probably annoy purists. The movie may also concern parents who will most likely have to explain that their impressionable little ones should not “try those moves” at home. Sadly, this iteration of the cartoon heroes has pretty stiff competition at the box office with the splendid Guardians of the Galaxy which will probably make most cartoon/comic adaptations look a little shallow in comparison. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens countrywide on August 8, 2014 and is rated PG-13.
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square 18