August 27, 2007

Animated Manhattan: TMNT

Part 17 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have once again been adapted for the big screen. According to the movie’s opening narration and also the official movie summary, the movie takes place in New York City. But while it sure looks like it takes place in New York, something’s missing. See if you can figure out what it is.

Here’s a shot of the city from the movie:


Okay, it looks pretty good. I don’t really recognize any of the buildings in this view, but they got the general feel right, down to the water towers on the rooftops. Here’s another shot:


That’s a pretty good rendering of a New York City streetcorner. Okay.


Another lovely skyline shot. I still don’t recognize any buildings, but I suppose that could be the Brooklyn Bridge in the image. Kinda hard to tell.


Now that’s definitely lower Manhattan, with Brooklyn across the harbor. Except I still don’t recognize any buildings. And where’s the Statue of Liberty? Are we really in New York City? Or some generic lookalike city?


Finally, an aerial view! That looks like it’s supposed to be Manhattan in the middle there, with New Jersey across the Hudson River, and Brooklyn across the East River. Except lower Manhattan’s not really that angular. So it’s not perfect, but pretty close.


But wait. What the hell is this building? I guess I’m fine with fictional buildings in a fiction movie, but if it’s supposed to be New York City, shouldn’t we see some of the real buildings, too?


And I know that’s not a New York City license plate.


Newspaper titles don’t really get much more generic than that one. [Although the newspaper does seem to say “NYC Cleanup” which I missed the first time around. Thanks to Grant for pointing that out in the comments]


Even the skyline on the local news is missing any landmark buildings.

I can only reach one conclusion: Despite the official movie synopsis, and the opening voiceover, [and the newspaper headline] this movie doesn’t take place in New York City at all. It’s meant to evoke the atmosphere and feeling of the city, but seems to take place in a generic version of New York City. The animators did a really good job rendering Manhattan-like settings, but with no landmarks, and no mention of New York in the dialogue (they refer just to “the city”), I assume they decided to go all the way and officially call it “New York City” only after the movie was nearly complete.

IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 5/10

(My rating is for the depiction of NYC only; in this case, they get high scores for the look and feel, but low scores for the lack of anything actually representing New York City)


That newspaper seems to have a headline that says NYC CLEAN UP, for what it’s worth.

It seems odd that they’d only decide to call it New York so late in the filmmaking, since the Turtles were always from New York before.

Grant: Hey, you’re right. I didn’t catch that. Good find.

Miles: True. Even in the cartoon, they referred to it as New York. I didn’t want to watch every episode of the cartoon show as research for this blog entry, but I did watch what I could find on YouTube. Like the movie, I didn’t see any actual NYC landmarks. Just generic NYC-like buildings. -David

Don’t quote me on this, but I seem to remember from my intellectual property class in college that images of buildings are considered derivative works and therefore covered by the copyright of the original architecture.

Buildings, as well as most publicly displayed art, occupies a strange niche in intellectual property law. You can sell a picture of a skyline or a park full of sculptures because you’re not focusing on any particular thing. It’s just a picture of New York in this case and nobody can copyright New York. If you were to take a photograph specifically of the Empire State Building, for instance, you could not sell that photograph without the express permission of whoever holds the copyright on the building’s architecture.*

Most of the precedent behind this is based on the fact urban moviemaking, photography, etc, would be impossible if the artists had to get permission from every company that owned a building in a city. Ergo, it’s alright to sell something, like a movie, that features a city as a whole but a work that centers on a single building with a distinctive appearance is protected.

In this case, iconic buildings may have been omitted in favor of a generic skyline to avoid any such issues. The pre-imagined litigation centering around the idea that, in an animated movie, a building can be shown or omitted at will, unlike a movie shot on an actual location, and that the producers would have to compensate the owners of those buildings’ copyrights.

That’s just a guess, though.

* I was only using the Empire State Building as an example. I don’t know the state of it’s design’s copyright. Though, due to the building’s age, I imagine it has expired.

“What the hell is this building?” Its where Gozer is living.

In Two Weeks Notice (yes, I admit to seeing it), both the Empire State Building and The Chrysler Building are given credits. Must be a legal thing.

The CG animation was produced in Hong Kong. Having lived in both New York and Hong Kong, I have to say that it seems resemble the HK skyline more than the city they were going for. Check it out.

Perhaps it’s a case of post-9/11 “ass-covering”. Remember how they took the WTC out of movies after 9/11? Well, perhaps they just made sure to keep any other landmark buildings out just in case something else happened. That way, no one is reminded (we should all be, but let’s not get political) and they don’t have go back and take anything out.

What difference does it make if it doesn’t have NYC specific buildings and layout?

Its a giant city. Thats what NYC is. Mission accomplished.

Instead of obsessing about meaningless stuff like the lack of the empire state building, you should be praising how beautifully modeled, textured, lit, and rendered the city was. Probably the best representation of NYC (or any big city) I’ve ever seen in an animated film.

I think we have to consider that the film will be marketed in many countries, with dialouge dubbed into other languages. While the English langauge version refers to the city as New York, the dubbed versions might not. Perhaps that’s why they decided to make the city more generic.

Hey, at least it wasn’t obviously Toronto, like many live-action movies set in New York (ie Bulletproof Monk and Loser.)

What a waste of time article. You can’t suspend your disbelief enough that a NYC lookalike can pass for NYC in an animated movie about MUTATED TURTLE NINJAS?

Just a thought Caseys thumb is occluding part of that sub headline and it could be a KYC or an RYC, so for the sake of argument it could still be an organic city
Just playing devils advocate.

As for the Statue of Liberty… you couldn’t see it from that angle anyway. It would be hidden behind the buildings. I work in Manhattand and live in Brooklyn, so I take the BQE (Brooklyn/Queens Expressway) frequently, and the angle of that frame is very similar to that from the highway. If you drove south for about two minutes, you’d see the statue.

We do remember that this is a movie about mutant turtles fighting mythical beasts from hundreds of years ago. I think if you are getting hung up on architecture you may some mythical beasts that you must wrestle with.

Who cares

what would you consider a 10/10? I just checked out all your reviews, and the highest you gave was for “The Critic” which I totally agree with, and that other movie (which I haven’t seen). What would a cartoonist have to do for you to give the depiction a 10?

I hate when they use fake newspaper mastheads. When I did LYLE LYLE CROCODILE and other films, I contacted the papers asking for permission, and I got it easily. I was able to use the NYDaily News or NYTimes in the film. It’s just lazy and pointless to do otherwise, if you’re trying to represent a City.

This is a great series, keep it up.

I read somewhere that the filmmakers made these changes intentionally. They wanted to add some timelessness to the film. Of course, the one obvious way they could’ve done it is to omit the Twin Towers, but omitting ALL the signature buildings seems to be a stretch.

May I suggest some other films you should consider for this series?

Tiny Toons Adbventures- “ThirteenSomething”
The show’s satirical nature seeped its way into this episode, where Babs gets a role on her favorite teen drama, filmed in NYC.

Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear- Act 3
While this film is a victim of the episodic sequences you usually find in the Disney features of the 60’s and 70’s, the Bears’ last location in their adventure is Manhattan, one of the rare memorable scenes.

I was gonna also suggest Hercules, but the scenes in Thebes, while obviously parodying New York, are sad ones, with jokes that fall flat.