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A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tour-de-force: Movie Review

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

After forty years and an unthinkable number of pizzas, the beautifully weird Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles finally get to star in a movie they can be proud of.

Paramount’s slick, groovy, silly and incredibly heartfelt film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem is the seventh big-screen adaptation of the weird 80s comic book characters about large, crime-fighting turtles in New York City since 1990, but this is the first one that's in any way enjoyable.

The film is a reboot of the Turtle-tacular quartet's origin story, conceived by actor Seth Rogen and director/designer Jeff Rowe (best known for 2021’s terrific The Mitchells vs. the Machines) who’ve refocused the basic story from the ground up.

What makes Mutant Mayhem successful is instead of shallow, kitschy action and lame overproduced antics, these four main characters have been allowed to be sweet, faulty and overconfident kids trying to meet their potential and fit in to a community where, as turtles among humans, they’re clearly outsiders.

Focusing on these themes of acceptance, honour between sons and their father, and the morals of science give the series a grounding that's never been there. Add in slick animation with a neon edge, plus a shell-shockingly funny and likeable script, and you’ve made the first dramatically sound and truly entertaining turtle movie.

While writing, direction and production credits lean heavy on the leadership of Rowe and Rogen, the true stars are four newcomers as the turtles themselves - they casting of real teenagers (for the first time in series history!) was the missing secret ingredient.

Nicholas Cantu's Leonardo (the blue one), Brady Noon's Raphael (the red one), Sharon Brown Jr.'s Michelangelo (the orange one) and Micah Abbey's Donatello (the purple one) are all rock stars. Their chemistry, vulnerability, infectious energy and comedic timing are all spectacular. These kids are amazing.

But so is the rest of the cast, especially martial arts legend Jackie Chan as their father Splinter and the smooth-talking Ice Cube as the villainous Superfly. Ayo Edebri, best known for TV’s The Bear, also is the best April O’Neil ever to play the role.

Several celebrities and comedians cameo as other mutants who are in a small part of the movie, and they all land many great one-liners. One of the plot’s few shortcomings is that keeping track of all these secondary characters is confusing and overwhelming, meaning its hard to appreciate the artistry in their creation with so little time.

The art direction and designs of New York at night has marks of teenage comics, mimicking the turtles' hopes of joining their real teenage peers and their own sketches for their dream lives. The art style is very creative, though some the mutants are slightly grotesque, and the many night-time settings means the film looks darker than its tone actually reads.

Personally, I've never liked the Turtles either as a kid or as an adult. But this new presentation of them in Mutant Mayhem gives them balance, humour and heart for the first time, and maybe we humans in the audience are finally ready to accept them for who they are - because these teens have finally come out of the shells in the best way.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

8 out of 10

PG, 1hr 40mins. Animated Family Sci-Fi Action.

Directed by Jeff Rowe.

Starring Nicholas Cantu, Brady Noon, Sharon Brown Jr. and Micah Abbey. Also starring Jackie Chan, Ayo Edebri, Maya Rudolph and Ice Cube.

Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, 5 Drive-In, Cineplex Winston Churchill & VIP and Cineplex Oakville & VIP.

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