It's a sobering thought. The first independent movie to gross $100 million wasn't Pulp Fiction or sex, lies and videotape, it was a comic book spin-off featuring men in turtle-suits scrapping it out with a gang of martial arts thieves, The Foot.
Back in 1990 the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze was sufficiently alarming to the British authorities the BBC changed the name of the animated children's series to 'Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles', and Michelangelo's weapons of choice, nunchaku, were cut out entirely. Several minutes of fighting were also removed from Steve Barron's live action film. Even so, parents worried about what kind of role models these sewer-living, pizza-scoffing vigilante reptiles made for their little ones.
Kids weren't fazed in the slightest, and even if the Turtles gave way to Transformers, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the fickleness of pre-teen fame, they never completely disappeared. There was a new animated series a few years ago, and now an animated feature, this time aimed at the Computer Generation.
It kicks off - a bit disconcertingly - three thousand years ago in another solar system, with a top heavy explanation for a supporting cast including an immortal millionaire, several petrified Generals, thirteen alien abominations (all keeping a surprisingly low profile in New York these past few millennia), and of course The Foot.
Then it's off to Central America, where a swarthy Latin stereotype is harassing some helpless peasant stereotypes until a jungle ghost exacts retribution. To the relief of the minors - and anyone else wondering if they'd walked into the wrong movie by mistake - this turns out to be Leonardo, de facto TMNT leader, and instantly recognisable for his dinky blue ninja eye mask (the turtles are unusual among superheroes for sporting masks not as a disguise, but for identification purposes).
For reasons that remain clear as mud, our green half-shell heroes have been on an extended hiatus. Their sensei, the talking rat Splinter, has sent Leo south to brush up his leadership skills on his lonesome (no, it didn't make sense to me either). Back in the Big Apple, Donatello has taken a call job as computer tech support. In the movie's best joke, Michelangelo dons a ninja turtle costume to work the kids' party circuit. And Raphael, the tortured adolescent soul of the quartet, sleeps all day and sneaks out at night for some solo action as 'The Nightwatcher'.
Written and directed by Kevin Munroe, TMNT is a confident brand rebooting exercise that will wow younger kids and should satisfy older fans who grew up with the comic book and the earlier movies.
On the downside the story feels like two TV episodes strung together, and Munroe doesn't have a gift for wisecracks (where's Corey Feldman when you need him?). But the character byplay is solid enough, and the digital animation is a major plus point: from sewers to rooftops, the urban backdrops are detailed and atmospheric, and Munroe stages the action with some imagination.
Among the voice talent, you may or may not recognise Sarah Michelle Gellar (April), Chris Evans (no, not that one - as Casey Jones), Patrick Stewart as Max Winters, Laurence Fishburne as the narrator, and Zhang Ziyi as Karai.
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