Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The latest big-screen incarnation of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is closer in spirit to the original comic book than the animated TV series that baby-sat at least a generation of youngsters. Some of us who remember how "Turtles" creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird turned the comic industry upside down 20-something years ago with their homemade, high-concept superhero parody, take this as being more good news than bad.

Meanwhile, those who only saw the phenomenon as little more than a means of moving toys off department store shelves won't appreciate the extra layer of shadows and bite present in "TMNT," the digitally animated comeback for the lean, green fighting machines. That may be partly because (feel the irony) there's not enough shadow and bite in the mix. But there remains the high concept: Four giant, perennially adolescent turtles, schooled in martial arts, bearing the names of Italian Renaissance artists and addicted to pizza. Is that enough? Almost.

Writer-director Kevin Munroe is taking a chance by assuming his audience will know or care that the Shredder, longtime foe of the eponymous foursome, is long gone and that plucky TV newswoman April O'Neil (voice by Sarah Michelle Gellar) is now a plucky salvage specialist rooting around Central America for ancient artifacts.

And what about her old sewer-dwelling ninja pals? Well, Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) is still the group airhead, picking up pizza money (dough, if you will) doing kids' birthday parties. Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) is still the genius, working the tech-assistance phones for home computer users. Raphael (Nolan North) is still a hothead, blowing off steam as a vigilante to the despair of Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) the leader.

So what brings them back to the surface? Those aforementioned ancient artifacts, which a billionaire (Patrick Stewart) is tracking down for presumably sinister purposes; something to do with monsters. But you could have guessed that.

"TMNT's" animation has a grungy-metallic aura reminiscent of the comic book. There's also a commendably light application of cheese smeared on this cinematic pizza. But what's lacking, except in too-quick flashes, are some of the subtler spices -- wit, self-mockery -- strewn through this franchise in all its various formats.

This dearth may not matter to young children looking for kinetic action and those old enough to get misty-eyed about their favorite after-school program. But if those behind "TMNT" want to keep the revival going (and there are strong hints in this installment that they do), they'd better take some more chances with the concept than they do here.