Directors/Story – Andy Suriano & Art Ward, Screenplay – Tony Gama-Lobo & Rebecca May, Music – Matt Mahaffey, Animation – Digitoonz Media & Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., Flying Bark Productions & Top Draw Animation Inc. (Lead Director – Arvin Benjie S. Ramos), Production Design – Andy Suriano. Production Company – Nickelodeon.
Ben Schwartz (Leo), Omar Benson Miller (Raph), Brandon Mychal Smith (Mikey), Josh Brenner (Donnie), Haley Joel Osment (Casey Jones), Kat Graham (April O’Neil), Eric Bauza (Splinter), Jim Pirri (Krang One), Toks Olagundoye (Krang Two)
In the year 2044. Leo and Mikey, the only remaining Turtles, fight against the Krang that have destroyed most of the Earth. The two of them pool their last resources to send Casey Jones back in time through a portal to the present-day with instructions to find the key before it is used to open the dimensional portal that unleashes the Krang. The transfer is successful and Casey meets up with the Turtles and persuades them of who he is. However, they arrive too late to prevent the key being stolen by The Foot who open the gateway, unleashing the Krang, who proceed to wreak havoc. Fearing the mission is already lost, Casey persuades the Turtles that they can still change time and stop the Krang.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were one of the essential pop culture icons of the late 1980s/early 90s. They were originally created in 1984 as a self-published comic-book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. This proved successful and in short time the Turtles were spun off as a toy line. The marketers then approached the animation studio Murakami-Wolfe-Swenson to launch an animated tv series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-96), which lasted for ten seasons of 193 half-hour episodes. It was at this point that the Turtles exploded with three live-action films and all manner of marketing tie-ins, including a live concert tour. The Turtles phenomenon died off by the mid-1990s but there have been numerous other reboots and reiterations since then. (See below for the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films and tv series).
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018- ) was one of these revivals – an animated series that appeared on the US Nickelodeon network. It is the fourth different iteration of the Turtles as an animated series that we have had to date. At the time this film was released, two seasons of 39 episodes have been produced. The title suggests that this is a series that follows the Turtles from their beginnings but it is just more adventures of the established group. This was a film spinoff released directly to Netflix.
I started watching Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie without having watched the animated series it derives from. But good grief, this is possibly the worst thing ever put out in the name of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And that is including stiff competition from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993) and the Michael Bay reboot. The film pays homage to original creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, with a Eastlaird High School named in tribute. If I was them, I would be suing to have my name removed – either that or they have reached a point where they happily just take the money and no longer care.
I grew up in an era where the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was one of the biggest pop culture phenomena of the day. I knew grown adults who would videotape the show or organise time in their day for when it was on. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie feels like a group of modern creators have excavated that and transformed the basics into a fix intended to act as a brain rush to today’s ADHD youth. Everything in the show has been designed in bright primary colours. The camera angle never stays still or on the same shot for more than 2-3 seconds. Every so often, the screen bursts out in mad pop art visuals. And that’s in between the psychedelic blur of martial arts moves and power blasts.
None of that is quite as bad as the characters. The original animated Turtles were teenagers – the anthropomorphic design of the characters gave them a wide-eyed innocence that made them endearing and relatable. That and the barrage of pop culture trivia and endless arrays of pizzas and skateboarding and infectiously slang terms like “Cowabunga” caught on with people. They were characters that kids of the 1980s/90s loved and identified with so much they would dress up as them – there would even be competition among them as to which one’s favourite Turtle was. It is hard to imagine anything here inspiring that same pop culture frenzy.
By contrast here, the characters have been redesigned along the lines of the same ugly block shapes with thick outlines that we get in Teen Titans Go! (2014- ). The Turtles here have their names shortened to Leo, Raph, Mikey and Donnie. I don’t know – does that make them more hip or something or do the producers figure that giving them the names of Renaissance artists is too high falutin’ for the dumbed-down version they trying to peddle? And when the characters go into their usual babble amid the Ritalin-deprived mania of the visuals, the result is just incredibly annoying. The characters have also been powered up way more than the originals ever were, including devices that allow the creation of energy shields and mystical powers allowing them to create the time portal.
None of this is as bad as the characterisation of April O’Neil. In the original, April was a girl reporter for the local tv station outfitted in distinctive red hair and yellow raincoat. This has remained in most of the subsequent incarnations. Here however, she is reconceived as a nerdy, bespectacled African-American teenager in high school who talks with a sassy streetwise voice and wades into action alongside the Turtles wielding a baseball bat. To coin the phrase that seems to be slung about with just about every remake or reboot these days: “It’s ain’t my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
There are times that Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie almost verges on being something quite decent. The plot is nothing to speak of – it basically rips off X-Men; Days of Future Past (2014) with someone sent back from the future to alter events and prevent a disastrous threat. One criticism of all the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films would be that they never conceive of decent nemeses for the Turtles – never going beyond The Foot and Shredder to include any of the exotic super-villains like the invaders from Dimension X or the Rat King. This does introduce The Krang, although gives them a far less interesting design than the original creation, which was a humanoid body with a brain in a jar where its chest should be, whereas here they are just rectangular blobs with facial features.
The other almost worthwhile thing the film does is some epic-sized action. At times, the action almost reaches the animated equivalent of some of the titanically scaled sequences in Michael Bay’s Transformers films. You only keep thinking that if this hadn’t been delivered in the crude blocky style and a pace of caffeine-hyped mania, it could have actually been quite impressive.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were originally popularised in an animated tv series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-96), which lasted for ten seasons of 193 half-hour episodes. This led to three live-action films:- the not bad Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and two indifferent sequels, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993). The Turtles were subsequently revived in the live-action tv series Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997-8), which had the novelty of introducing a female Turtle Venus de Milo, but this was highly unpopular and lasted for only 26 episodes; a further animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003-9); the animated film TMNT (2007); the live-action reboot Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) and its sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016); and the animated crossover film Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019). Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is a documentary about the Turtle phenomenon.