I have absolutely no connection to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was too old when it became a thing, and I honestly had no interest in comic books or mutant turtles who love pizza. Funny enough, I owned actual turtles. Actually, Hipster Dad owned them, but they lived in our house. A western pond turtle and some sort of softshell turtle, to be exact-ish. They didn’t eat pizza. Mostly they ate dry stick things and frozen beef heart. They were supposed to eat these feeder goldfish too, though they didn’t. So we ended up with giant carp that we had to remove from their tank in order to house their giganticness. Our turtles did not wield nunchucks or katanas. Though if they had, those goldfish probably wouldn’t have stood a chance. They didn’t skate. And they especially didn’t talk. Which, in retrospect, would have been cool.
Despite my somewhat lackluster experience with the world of testudines, others have an absolute batshit crazy love for these bro-ey reptiles. At least that’s my understanding from the number of articles worrying that the world would come to an end if Seth Rogen fucked up this franchise reboot. Or whatever this rolling series of comics, cartoons, live-action films and toys can be considered. So, frankly, it was less the story and the history of TMNT that intrigued me and more the glimpses of the interesting animation style. It looked like a combination of rotoscope, teenaged notebook sketches and some artistic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse touches. That and I’ll look for anything to watch with Hipster Jr. Jr. Not that I thought she’d become a TMNT acolyte after this filmic experience, but, hey, at least it’s not Marvel. Or an awful Korean k-drama.
It’s interesting to see Rogen apply what is usually his adult, stoner humor to what is ostensibly a kids’ movie. His usual sophomoric, arrested development approach to grown-ups lends itself well to this setup. You know, where the main characters are teens. And teens who are fish out of water. Or turtles out of water. Or basically sheltered kids experiencing the world for the very first time. With an adoptive father who is a mutant, ninjutsu rat (Jackie Chan). They live in the sewer away from human society until, that is, boys be boys and curiosity gets the best of them. After all, what teen boy can resist pizza and shit? Also a teen thing? Understanding their origin story and then either embracing or rejecting it. Because that story helps explain an important piece of your identity. The boys discover their origins and it gets them in with the wrong gang of weirdo mutants, including our movie’s bad guy, Superfly (Ice Cube). There’s all sorts of corporate espionage and environmental degradation and stuff that I won’t go into. But suffice it to say that there’s tension between the past, identity, family and responsibility. And a lesson in all of it.
Honestly the best decision here was to cast actual teenagers as the turtles. And apparently do the voiceovers with the actors all in one room. There’s just an energy with teens — especially in a group — that can’t be captured alone in a booth. Or by adults trying to remember what it was like hanging out with their teenaged buddies. It comes across in the performances and gives an authenticity to the humor that might otherwise feel forced or not quite right. Honestly, the plot about the lab and the mutant experiment and all that stuff was necessary for the TMNT backstory, but was otherwise a little confusing and relatively unnecessary. Well, not unnecessary, as it plays into the same backstory as our bad guys, but it definitely felt like it could have done with some trimming and/or an outsider’s script p.o.v. Otherwise, the film is clever, moves along quickly and looks very cool. Which was my hope going in. I can’t say I’m a turtle convert per se, but I’ll stream volume two when it comes out. I don’t know if the same boys will star, or if they’ll get the sheer number of celeb cameos in the next one, but I’m sure Rogen and company will come up with something fresh and funny to throw up there on the screen.