Saturday, March 31, 2007

T-U-R-T-L-E Power

Tonight I finally went to see the new TMNT movie, which I'd been really interested in checking out. First impressions are, it's about what I expected. It succeeds at giving some fun action sequences, and bringing the turtles back together (in the world of the movie, and in ours). The story left something to be desired, but it was fun, a great nostalgic ride down memory lane for those of us who grew up with the saturday morning cartoon and 3 live action movies.

I was actually pretty impressed by the animation. When you compare it to other animated versions of the Turtles, especially the 80's cartoon, it's leaps and bounds ahead. From the trailers I could tell that the martial-arts and action would be the strong points--the timing and weight really are great, and they pull off some very complicated stunts that surely would have had me scratching my head if I had to sit down and animate them. I was surprised to see that there were also a few times where the acting, even on Casey and April, were very expressive and hit the emotional core of the dialogue straight on, and those moments entertained me more than anything else in the movie, (often spurring a slight laugh of appreciation from me, probably confusing the people sitting around me). Now the lip sync and mouth shapes of the characters, were definitly weaker. The ironic thing was that in the human characters the mouth shapes weren't exaggerated enough, and in the turtles I thought the mouth shapes were mostly over-exaggerated. But it still beats the lip "sync" of those Henson costumes in the old movies ;)
So all in all, I had a good time because there was enough for me as an animator to appreciate, in the action and even in some of the acting. The movie's biggest downfall is of course that it really fails to bring any heart into the story. It has potential for it, because the movie centers around an emotional divide between Raph and Leo (Mikey and Donnie don't really do much), but most of the plot lines and emotional changes are explained away in dialogue in an obvious attempt to talk down to the kids. The interesting thing is that when movies are made "for kids", there are these visable attempts to make sure every plot line is absolutely clear in words. Ya know what, I think kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and if you give them a story with a strong emotional core, they will react to it and appreciate it, whether or not they fully understand the deeper meanings. But honestly, had I seen this in my Ninja Turtle fan days, I know I would have absolutely loved it.
The humor attempts to retain the one-line zingers that the Turtles are known for, but it didn't succeed in giving me more than some chuckles. Not so long ago I watched the original Turtle movies, and they still made me laugh more than these jokes did (Don: "Yeeah...Yea-Yeeeeaaah!" in the 2nd movie). Overall there is a consistency that picks up from the other movies (Raph and Leo don't get along, Casey and Raph are friends), and even a nice nod to the other movies at the end--(if you look closely, on Splinter's shelf you can see the cracked TGRI ooze canister). What they need to do for the sequel, and yes I'm sure there will be one, is to take the believability from the live action movies--put the characters in our world, one we can recognize, not a generic cartoon world--and give recognizable traits to the human characters (make Casey Jones the tough and not so sleek guy he is here, and April more than jack-of-all-trades sidekick). And don't forget the other characters! Michelangelo and Donatello really don't deal with anything personal.

I can't end yet without talking about one crazy shot at the final battle sequence. I don't know how long this shot is, but it starts with the camera behind the Turtles, April, Casey, and Splinter heading towards the huge crowd of Foot Soldiers (yes, another CG crowd), and continues to follow them as they kick and fight themselves around and through the crowd, leaving one character and picking up on another as it goes, until they finally end up on the other side of the crowd. The camera is constantly moving and following the action, and it never cuts! I can only imagine the meetings about this shot, not only in terms of logistics of animation and camera work, but also in terms of rendering the incredible number of characters. What a headache!

Go for some entertaining animation, cinematography, and nice renders, just don't go in with high expectations for an engrossing story. Enjoy the walk down memory lane, and the fact that the turtles actually look pretty good!

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