Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem by Mark Kanter (PG)

In the latest installment of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series, the legendary reptilian protagonists undergo a compelling exploration of their origin story. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael have been sheltered from life outside the sewers from their father “Splinter”. The Turtles undergo a transformative journey, delving deep into the essence of brotherhood, belonging, family, and friendship. “Cowabunga!”

My expectations for the new Ninja Turtles Movie were nonexistent. Am I a typical Generation X pessimist? Probably. However, I found myself pleasantly surprised by this movie. It’s undoubtedly the best Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles movie to date, although admittedly, the bar wasn’t set very high.

I’m a Seth Rogen fan. I admire his work and his willingness to immerse himself in new projects that he’s passionate about. Rogan transforms beloved Intellectual Properties with his unique spin, such as “The Boys” and “Preacher.” He’s a producer and co-writer here, which is most likely why the movie was made. He even introduces the film with an affable and sincere short, expressing the hope that we, as the audience, enjoy it. I, for one, did enjoy it.

I can almost hear his trademark laugh, laborious and hoarse as he puts pen to paper, co-writing the script with his long-time partner Evan Goldberg among others. I can picture them giggling and bouncing ideas off each other in their smoke-filled office. Their distinctive stamp is on every scene. If you’re a fan of their humor, you’re likely to enjoy TMNT.

The main theme of this movie is acceptance and family. Superhero movies in the 21st century have succeeded when heroes grapple with common life experiences within the context of their superhuman abilities. This movie delves into that idea, with our teenage turtles dealing with loneliness, longing, family, understanding, and the desire to be accepted. It’s heavy material, adeptly handled by the writers and director, and, of course, Jackie Chan.

Grandpa Bill Adamson with his Grandkids Elliot and Calvin

Now, onto the animation. It’s visually captivating, with a unique, dark style – moving graffiti combined with heavy neon cell shading. The opening scene showing how the Mutants were conceived was designed to shock the audience, but like jumping into a pool of cold water, we adapt quickly. This visual style evokes the original comic books in which the Ninja Turtles first appeared. It’s clever, but it won’t appeal to everyone. If you prefer smooth and calm animation, this might not be your cup of tea. It’s not the serene, lithium-infused atmosphere of “Marcel the Shell.”

Nevertheless, it’s effective – like Red Bull art: visually arresting, modern, and impactful. Unfortunately, it somewhat affected my 9-year-old daughter. It took her several hours and a trip to the bookstore, where she read about ocean creatures, to help her recover and decompress.

Animation is just the delivery method. Voice acting and the script become even more crucial as the story unfolds through this medium. Two standout performances are those of Jackie Chan and Ice Cube. Jackie Chan, as the Turtles’ elderly father, brings a touching and sweet quality to the character. He’s a natural, and I hope to see him in many more animated movies. His voice conveys so much emotion that he’s indispensable here; he also elevates the script. Whenever he speaks, a smile finds its way to my face. I must also mention an excellent fight scene influenced by Chan’s earlier film “Police Story” – a love letter from the creators to Mr. Chan and his past films.

Ice Cube was equally impressive as the main villain, infusing the role with humanity, energy, and audacity. I could listen to him recite the back of a cereal box – that’s how good he is.

Unfortunately, the character development of the Turtles wasn’t a strong suit of this movie. They could have been the same turtle for much of the film. More early development of their distinct personalities would have made the audience more invested in their journey toward acceptance. We tend to care about individuals (or Turtles) we understand and empathize with.

The directors, Jeff Rowe & Kyler Spears, maintain a fast-paced and enjoyable rhythm. The movie never drags, which is quite an accomplishment. It will hold the attention of even the most sugar-addled kids, even after consuming handfuls of Sour Patch Kids and a large Sprite. The jokes remain fresh, and so does the movie. There are numerous instances of comedic dialogue and camaraderie, as seen in films such as “40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “Neighbors,” and “Platonic.” Many scenes revolve around individuals (or creatures) coming together to achieve a deeper understanding – a recurring theme in Rogen’s films. In this case, it works wonderfully.

Should we be fortunate enough to see another TMNT film, I hope the current creators of Mutant Mayhem return, as this movie deserves a follow-up with the same team.

It’s playing in theaters now.

Director: Jeff Rowe and Kyler Spears

Writers: Dan Hernandez, Banji Samit, Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg

Voice Cast: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Ayo Edebiri, Maya Rudolph, John Cena, Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Natasia Demetriou, Giancarlo Esposito, Jackie Chan, Ice Cube, Paul Rudd, Post Malone and More.

Studio: Nickelodeon Movies Point Grey Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Run Time: 139 Minutes

Mark Kanter Bio:

As a kid with a short attention span and a sensitive nature, I was drawn to the immersive world of cinema from a very young age. Movies were my escape, therapy, and ultimately my teachers. They helped me understand life and where I fit into it. I’ve been mesmerized by the magic of movies – how they can touch us deeply, make us see the world in a new light, and evoke emotions. I’m grateful to the people who make them and spend their lives creating stories for us in the audience.

My first crack at writing a movie review came in college when I tackled Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” My professor liked it so much that he had me recite it in front of the entire class. That was a confidence boost that I sorely needed. It made me realize I could write about what I loved. It was a game-changer.

Now, many years later, I’m still in love with writing about movies and media. The satisfaction I get sharing my thoughts with others is a privilege, and I’m humbled every chance I get to do it. I’m in awe of how this medium has the power to shift our perspectives on life and our role in it. It’s a real honor to share my thoughts with others who love cinema as much as I do.