REVIEW: ‘Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie’ Is Chock-Full of Heart

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Rise of the TMNT: The Movie - But Why Tho

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT): The Movie is a Netflix Original Film produced by Nickelodeon Movies and directed by Andy Suriano & Ant Ward. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles find themselves in the fight of their lives when a mysterious warrior, Casey Jones (Haley Joel Osment), approaches them for help. Casey comes from a future where the world has been overrun by a malevolent alien race known as the Krang and has traveled back to the exact day their invasion began. The Turtles soon find themselves fighting for the fate of the world—especially Leonardo (Ben Schwartz), who has difficulty working well with others.

The Rise of the TMNT series grew on me while it was airing, mainly because it cemented a long-standing truth about the Turtles: they’re extremely adaptable to any situation. You can have them teaming up with the Power Rangers or even throw them into a dark dystopia as long as the characters’ core characteristics remain. One of those characteristics is the Turtles’ family dynamic, and Suriano & Ward dive deep into that with screenwriters Tony-Gama Lobo and Rebecca May.

As a result, Rise of the TMNT turns its focus on Leonardo, and it’s all the better for it. For years, Leonardo has been regarded as the most uninteresting of the Turtles due to his position as the “leader.” I never bought this, as being a leader can come with its struggles. You have to put your team’s safety first and think through things. And this film shows Leo going through it. He thinks that because Casey tells him he grows up to be the greatest ninja who ever lived that his way is the best way to do things. Needless to say, this attitude has dire consequences and leads to more than a fair bit of introspection. None of it would work without Schwartz, who infuses Leo with his trademark hyperactive charm and some genuine emotional heft. It worked wonders for his turn as Sonic the Hedgehog, so I’m glad it’s still present here.

The rest of the cast taps into the core elements of the Turtles and gets their own standout moments. Raphael (Omar Benson Miller) is still a bit short-tempered, even though he’s the leader of the team. Donatello (Josh Brener) is still a technological genius, and that genius ends up saving the Turtles more than once. And Michelangelo (Brandon Mychal Smith) winds up being the heart of the Turtles. Osment plays Casey as less of a street-smart vigilante and more of a teenager struggling to hold onto hope in a time where it’s all but snuffed out. And both April O’Neil (Kat Graham) and Splinter (Eric Bauza) wind up playing an integral part in the plot.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the animation in Rise of the TMNT is utterly stellar. Suriano and Ward wear their influences on their sleeves. The opening sequence, for example, has serious Terminator vibes. And the Turtles utilizing their magical powers, especially Leo and his teleporting swords, has more than a whiff of anime. The Turtles also bear designs that are similar to their personalities: Raphael is huge and hulking, Donatello has a mechanical “hard shell” covering his actual shell, and both Leonardo and Michaelangelo possess slender builds.

Being on Netflix also allows the creators to go a bit darker and scarier with the source material. Characters bleed and even die. And the Krang have a Lovecraftian vibe, from their design which resembles a pulsing brain crossed with Cthulhu, to their ability to possess others. In all honesty, the Rise movie bears more than a strong resemblance to the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, which was able to blend the darkness of the original Mirage comics with the more outlandish elements of the 1987 animated series. And that works in its favor.

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie gives the heroes in a half shell a cinematic adventure that’s chock-full of heart, action, and plenty of turtle power. Even if you’ve never watched the series, it’s still a great standalone adventure – and a great TMNT adventure to boot. Fans of the TV show and the TMNT mythology will definitely be pleased. 

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is currently available to stream on Netflix.


Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie gives the heroes in a half shell a cinematic adventure that’s chock-full of heart, action, and plenty of turtle power. Even if you’ve never watched the series, it’s still a great standalone adventure – and a great TMNT adventure to boot. Fans of the TV show and the TMNT mythology will definitely be pleased. 

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