TMNT is a 2007 computer-animated fantasy action film written and directed by Kevin Munroe. Based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, the film stars Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, and Zhang Ziyi. Mako died in July 2006, making TMNT his final film role. The film is dedicated to him.
It was the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film made with computer-generated imagery (CGI), created by Imagi Animation Studios, as well as the first feature film in the franchise in 14 years. The film sees the four Turtles (Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo) grow apart after their final defeat of the Shredder, when strange things are happening in New York City as ancient creatures threaten the world and the Turtles must reunite to save it.
The film premiered theatrically in the USA on March 23, 2007 to commercial success, grossing $95 million worldwide for a budget of $34 million, but received mixed reviews from film critics. Its release coincided with tie-in products including toys, comics and video games.
3,000 years ago, warlord Yaotl entered a portal into a parallel universe and became immortal, but his four generals are turned to stone. The portal also releases 13 immortal monsters that destroy his army and his enemies.
In the present, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have grown apart. After defeating the Shredder, Master Splinter has sent Leonardo to Central America for training to protect a village from bandits. Donatello works as an IT specialist, Michelangelo works as a birthday party entertainer called "Cowabunga Carl", and Raphael works at night as the vigilante "Nightwatcher". April O'Neil operates a company that locates and acquires relics for collectors, assisted by her boyfriend, Casey Jones.
April Travels to Central America for work and finds Leonardo, telling him that the Turtles have drifted apart. April returns to New York City with a statue for wealthy tycoon Max Winters. Leonardo also returns, and April and Casey deliver the statue to Winters. Winters hires Karai and the Foot Clan to search the city for the 13 monsters before the portal opens again. Raphael encounters Casey, who reveals his knowledge of Raphael's double identity and joins him in hunting criminals. Winters, who is actually Yaotl and is still immortal, reanimates his stone generals. Leonardo returns to the sewer lair, meeting Splinter. Splinter forbids the Turtles from fighting until they can act as a team again. While training, the Turtles encounter one of the 13 beasts, Bigfoot, battling the Foot Clan. The Turtles engage Bigfoot, going against Leonardo and Splinter's orders. When Raphael visits Casey, they encounter Vampire Succubor, one of the monsters, and witness its capture by the Foot and the Stone Generals, who spot them. Raphael is knocked unconscious. Casey takes Raphael back to the apartment while April calls the Turtles for help and reveals the identities of Yaotl and his generals. After being revived, Raphael suggests they pursue Yaotl, but Leonardo forbids him to go until Splinter gives out the order. Raphael investigates alone.
Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo plan their next move, while Donatello discovers the next portal will open over Winters' tower. Splinter tells Leonardo that his team is incomplete and that he knows what he must do. After 11 monsters have been captured, General Aguila questions Yaotl's actions. The generals conspire to betray Yaotl, wanting to remain immortal. Raphael encounters the Jersey Devil, one of the remaining monsters but drives it off. Leonardo fights Raphael, but when he breaks Leonardo's swords, Raphael is forced to leave. The generals seize Leonardo, intending to substitute him for the 13th missing beast, and Raphael decides to make amends by rescuing Leonardo. As the portal opens, Yaotl discovers his generals' treachery, while Splinter and the Turtles, accompanied by Casey and April, fight their way through the Foot Clan cordon and breach the tower. Yaotl reveals the truth to the heroes: he wants to be free of his curse of immortality. The generals reveal that they wish to preserve their immortality and use the portal to bring in more monsters to conquer the world.
Having refused to betray Yaotl in exchange for serving the Generals, April, Casey, and the Foot Clan work together, searching for the final monster, the Sea Monster, while the Turtles fight the generals. Splinter and Yaotl fight off numerous monsters emerging from the portal. Finally, April, Casey, and Karai arrive at the tower with the Sea Monster. The Sea Monster crashes into the Generals, dragging them into the portal before it closes. Karai warns them to enjoy their victory while it lasts, claiming they will soon contend with faces from their past, which the Turtles suspect to be the Shredder. She and the rest of the Foot Clan depart. Yaotl, now mortal, honors the Turtles and Splinter, thanking them for fulfilling his wish before dissipating. Splinter places Yaotl's helmet among his trophy collection, as well as Raphael's "Nightwatcher" helmet and Michelangelo's "Cowabunga Carl" head. As they return to their roles as the shadowy guardians of New York City, Raphael says that the Turtles will always be brothers. He ends the film with the familiar saying, "Oh, I love being a turtle."
- Nolan North as Raphael/Nightwatcher
- James Arnold Taylor as Leonardo
- Mitchell Whitfield as Donatello
- Mikey Kelley as Michelangelo "Cowabunga Carl"
- Mako Iwamatsu as Splinter
- Sarah Michelle Gellar as April O'Neil
- Chris Evans as Casey Jones
- Patrick Stewart as Max Winters / Yaotl
- Zhang Ziyi as Karai
- John DiMaggio as Colonel Santino
- Kevin Michael Richardson as General Aguila
- Paula Mattioli as General Serpiente
- Fred Tatasciore as General Gato
- Laurence Fishburne as narrator
- Kevin Smith as a diner cook
A computer graphics imagery (CGI) TMNT movie was first announced in 2000, with John Woo supposedly at the helm. That movie languished in development hell, and Woo ultimately moved on to other projects. TMNT, executive produced by the TMNT co-creator Peter Laird, departs from the previous films’ live-action style and is the first and only CGI film in the series. Writer/director Kevin Munroe said he wanted to do total CGI instead of live-action and CGI turtles because it would be easier for the audience to “suspend disbelief for such an offbeat story” as there would be no break in the reality between CGI and live-action. Producer Tom Gray explained that the decision to depart from the live-action series was due to escalating budgets for the three films, and with each film making less than its predecessor, a CGI film became a reality. For example, the first film made $135.2 million on a budget of $13.5 million, and the third made $44 million on a budget of $21 million. Orange Sky Golden Harvest’s rights to the franchise had expired, and Gray said the question arose over a CGI TMNT film in 2004.
In terms of the storyline, Munroe stated that ideas were floated as extreme as the Turtles being in space, but eventually, it just came back to New York City, and the theme of the family that had fallen apart. When developing the screenplay, Munroe wanted to take on a less lighthearted tone or “less Cowabunga” and emphasize dark elements as shown in the original comics to appeal to the mature audience. “I had a very specific tone because mixing that sort of action and comedy is a very specific thing. Most people were just coming and wanting to make it too funny. I think that version of the movie could do really well, but we wanted to do something where it sort of pushes the envelope a little bit more and says that animation is more than just comedic animals bumping into each other and farting!” Munroe said that in design and in the rendering of the animation, he was after the feel of a comic book. Karai was one of Munroe’s favorite characters from the comics, and he “was the one who really pushed for Karai” to appear in the film. TMNT co-creator Peter Laird stated it takes place in its own universe separate from the previous films. However, director Munroe says the film exists in the same continuity as the other films, supported by the memento wall at the end of the film.
Development and pre-production for TMNT began in June 2005 at Imagi’s Los Angeles facility, and the CGI animation was produced in Hong Kong, followed by post-production in Hollywood. In designing the New York backdrop, art director/concept artist Simon Murton stylized the familiar Manhattan skyline and urban landscapes: “We began with cinematic cues from certain black-and-white films from the 1940s and ’50s. I really wanted to push the lighting and the environments to create the look and feel of an alternate reality.” In addition, the animators that worked on the fight sequences were inspired by Hong Kong action films. Animation director Kim Ooi explains that because of CGI, they were able to “push and stylize beyond the limits of live-action.” Imagi used Maya with Pixar’s RenderMan for the production pipeline’s back-end.
Jim Cummings was the only past TMNT actor to appear in this film, where he had previously contributed voice-work in the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. The film also features three voice actors for Ratchet in the Ratchet & Clank series, Mikey Kelley and Kevin Michael Richardson from the first game, and James Arnold Taylor from the others, playing Michelangelo and Leonardo. TMNT would be Mako Iwamatsu’s final acting role. Mako was announced as the voice of Splinter at the San Diego Comic-Con on July 20, 2006. He then died the next day, aged 72. A dedication to Mako appears at the end of the film’s credits. Although Iwamatsu is the only actor credited in the role, Greg Baldwin performs a substantial portion of Splinter’s dialogue in the finished film; Baldwin had already mimicked Iwamatsu’s voice when he took up the late actor’s role as Iroh in the concurrently-produced cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender and used this precedent to successfully lobby to join the cast of TMNT as Splinter following Iwamatsu’s death.
Marketing and tie-ins
At the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con, the TMNT panel screened an exclusive preview that contained a Splinter voice-over with facial tests, concept art, muscle and dynamic fight tests, and a few comedic scenes. In addition, a sneak peek booklet containing storyboards, environment designs, and character designs by comic artist Jeff Matsuda was also distributed at the convention.
Several tie-in products were released in 2007. The McDonald's fast-food chain had film-based toys to collect with the purchase of a Happy Meal. A series of action figures based on the film's characters was released by Playmates Toys. A novelization, adapted from Munroe's screenplay by Steve Murphy, was published by Simon Spotlight. Finally, a five-issue prequel comic miniseries was published by Mirage Comics.
The licensed soundtrack Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Music from the Motion Picture was released by Atlantic Records in 2007.
Three beat'em up/action-adventure game/platformer adaptations of the film were developed and released by Ubisoft in 2007 for various video game consoles. A mobile game, TMNT: The Power of 4, was also developed by Overloaded and released by uClick that same year. In addition, characters from the film are available in Ubisoft's 2009 Wii and PlayStation 2 fighting game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up, while artworks from the film are available in this game as unlockable content.
The film was originally set for release domestically (the USA and Canada) on March 30, 2007, which would have been the 17th anniversary of the release of the first TMNT film. The March 30 date was advertised in the teaser trailer and early posters, but the release was moved up to March 23. A home media edition of TMNT was released on August 7, 2007, for the DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray. In 2009, a box set with all four TMNT films was released to celebrate the franchise's 25th anniversary. The DVD release contains several Special Features, including commentary on the feature by writer/director Kevin Munroe, an alternate opening and an alternate ending to the film, and interviews with some of the featured voice talent and filmmakers.
TMNT ranked number one at the box office on its opening weekend, beating 300 (the top film of the previous two weeks), The Last Mimzy, Shooter, Pride, The Hills Have Eyes 2, and Reign Over Me. Weekend estimates showed that the film made $25.45 million over the weekend of March 23–25, 2007. The film grossed over $95 million worldwide, including over $54 million domestically during its 91-day run in the 3,120 North American theaters.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes calculated a 34% approval rating, based on 115 reviews with an average rating of 5/10, and the consensus being "TMNT's art direction is splendid, but the plot is non-existent, and the dialogue lacks the irony and goofy wit of the earlier TMNT movies." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score from film critics, calculated an average rating of 41 out of 100 based on 21 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Claudia Puig of USA Today gave a negative review, stating that the film "is trying for a new image. But it takes more than an awkward title attempting to sound cool to overcome its mundane plot and silly dialogue." Michael Ordona of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "despite the doll-like cartoonishness of the human figures, the filmmakers seem to expect us to take this animated romp seriously. Too seriously." Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe called the film "a junk-food pastry. The plot is the wrapper. The action is the oily sponge cake. And the message - family, family, family - is the processed cream filling."
Conversely, Todd Gilchrist of IGN gave the film a positive review, calling it "a fun, action-filled adventure that will satisfy longtime fans and generate a legion of new ones, whether it be by simple storytelling, solid CGI, carefully-choreographed action, or just the spirit and energy that only the Turtles can create." Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post felt that the film "is technically superb and quite enjoyable as long as you don't bang your head against the plot, which will cause hot flashes, premature aging, and fallen arches." According to Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the film is "not so dark or scary as to keep most kids away" and it "has a cool, noirish sheen. There's an attention to detail in the visuals and sound design that pushes it up several notches above most kiddie fare."
The film received nominations for the Annie Award for Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production and the Golden Schmoes Award for Best Animated Movie of the Year.
|Annie Award||Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production||Sean Song||Nominated|
|Golden Schmoes Award||Best Animated Movie of the Year||TMNT||Nominated|