Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie debuts on Netflix on August 5, 2022.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is the most fun I’ve had with a TMNT story in years. It’s fun, lively, and full of the whimsical charm that helped this franchise survive. It works well enough as a sequel to the 2018 series, but it works even better as an evolution of everything that made the Turtles the pop culture staples they are now.
Its chosen silliness and frantic combat sequences are welcome escalations of the banter and high-stakes action we’ve come to expect from a Turtles tale. However, where it differs from its predecessor is also where it shines. I haven’t been impressed with recent TMNT reboots (too much of the same), but Rise is a great thing, mostly because it’s confident and uninterested in emulating previous iterations.
However, the plot is nothing special: an apocalyptic Krang invasion forces Leonardo to send Casey Jones back in time. His mission is simple: find the Turtles in the past so this nightmarish future can’t happen. Groundbreaking stuff, I know.
Considered a TMNT flick (because it still is), Rise has a blast ticking the necessary boxes. There’s action, villainy, swaying towers of pizza boxes, and enough self-satisfied snark to keep things familiar but fun. Directors Ant Ward and Andy Suriano understand that no matter how much they change things up, they still have to give us the fights and jokes we’ve come to expect from a Turtles movie.
From a stylistic point of view, however, Rise is one of the most visually striking adventures the franchise has released to date. One of the best, most underrated aspects of the Rise series is how it reflects the characters’ personalities through their designs. Splinter is smaller, flatter, and fatter than we’ve ever seen him, making his transformation from dignified rat mentor to sloppy couch potato less of a leap. Raphael’s size and bulk reflect his status as the strongest, while Donatello, his slender frame always bristling with contraptions, is the embodiment of breakneck innovation.
Comedy is a key ingredient in the TMNT formula and the recent Nickelodeon show has relied on it consistently. Incredibly, the humor here is more fluid and organic than in other interpretations. Rather than portraying the Turtles as run-of-the-mill heroes who churn out questionable one-liners in battle, Rise professes their silliness on and off the battlefield. The 2012 computer-animated series had a chunkier sense of humor and was much less moment-to-moment appealing. The older cartoons were also light-hearted, but the limitations of late 80’s/early 90’s cartoons prevented them from achieving the kinetic fun shown here.
Its on Teen Titans Go! bordering goofiness and offbeat animation style immediately set it apart from other Turtles iterations. For some, this approach strays too far from the early Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird comics. Look beyond, and it’s clear that this accessible, colorful and hilarious alternative to cookie cutter TMNT stories is an excellent entry point for younger viewers. (Nickelodeon President Cyma Zarghami has said that Rise reflects the franchise’s penchant for reinvention, with the series’ “younger and lighter” feel intended to entertain younger viewers. I think riseThe real appeal of is much broader than that, but that’s another matter.)
At the same time, however, Rise introduces an emotional intensity that the series lacked. That’s where Parks and Rec and Sonic the Hedgehog’s Ben Schwartz comes in, reprising his voice role as Leonardo. Schwartz displays an uncanny (but useful) talent for balancing dramatic beats with comedic ones, making his cast as the main turtle even more fitting. The rest of the cast, stellar as they are, are unable to show their reach because their main job is to rally around Leo as he grows.
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Still, few of its emotional beats stay through the credits. Ward and Suriano, with the help of writers Tony Gama-Lobo and Rebecca May, engineer rise to cheer us up, not to upset us. But as a low-engagement animated romp and a continuation of the 2018 series, it’s absolutely thrilling.
Rise reinforces the franchise’s broad appeal, even as it sets it apart from others TMNT stories. It has more fun with its plot and characters than it needs to, and benefits from its playfulness. For me, a fan who has followed the franchise off and on for years, this emphasis on fun is contagious. Making Leonardo the emotional core is an unexpected touch, adding some focus to the process and keeping the script tight. The stakes here are higher than in the series, but they never get impersonal. The family dynamic that underlies everyone magnificently TMNT Excursion is still important here; Leo’s personal journey simply serves as a stepping stone for these characters to get where we know they’re going.