Lean, green and on the screen: The Ninja Turtles are back

Ninja Turtles
Paramount Pictures

By María Estévez, MWN 

The fighting reptiles — Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael — are the happy accident of comic book authors Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird who, not knowing what to do with their first sketch, ended up creating the successful Ninja Turtles franchise.

The four pizza-loving friends have been appearing in cartoon shows, movies, and as toys for three decades, long enough to eclipse their comic book origins. In 1983, Eastman and Laird created their comic strip as a parody of themselves from snippets of all the blockbuster superhero comics of the time — New Mutants, X-Men and, most notably, Frank Miller’s Daredevil from which they borrowed ninjas and martial arts, an origin story involving strange chemicals, a mentor named after a piece of wood and a horde of faceless villains named after a bodily limb. The comic was a sales and licensing success that shook up an industry still stretching its muscles after decades of publishing consolidation. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem‘ has become the latest cinematic prerequisite for Seth Rogen, who has made a second career out of racking up blockbuster comic book adaptations that aren’t based on Marvel or DC properties.

“I’m at a point in my career where not many people are in a position to tell me how I do my job. I think when I was younger, I liked not having as much perspective as I do now. I’ve worked my way up decisively so I don’t have to deal with as much personal conflict. I try not to let criticism stop me from doing the things I think are interesting,” the producer noted two months before the film’s release and two weeks before the actors’ strike. 

Of all the comic book adaptations produced by Rogen, including ‘Preacher,’ ‘The Boys,’ and ‘Invincible,’ the most surprising is this new one about the Ninja Turtles.

A fan of the Turtles, Rogen, 41, confesses to reading the comic book in his childhood:

“The animated series came out in 1987 when I was five years old. The first movie came out in 1990 when I was eight. It was a product aimed at someone my age and I loved it. I thought they were funny and a generational reference. I started taking karate lessons influenced by the turtles. I was actually obsessed with them.”

Rogen enjoyed his time with the Ninja Turtles so much that when he was asked to create a new movie about these characters, he didn’t think twice. In early 2020, the producer was announcing that he would reboot a CGI movie about the Ninja Turtles, along with Nickelodeon and Point Grey Pictures.

“This version of the turtles emphasizes their teenage aspect, including discipline, honor, loyalty, and, of course, immaturity accompanied by fun,” reveals the actor.  

The last time we saw turtles on the big screen was in 2016 in a film starring Megan Fox and Will Arnett, however, Rogen revives this intellectual property with tons of humor.

“We’re talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Of all those words, the teen part has been the least explored and the most interesting to me. I think a lot of my career has been intrinsically tied to the teen genre and I want to explore the Turtles in that way.” 

Along with screenwriters Jeff Rowe, Evan Goldberg, Dan Hernandez, and Bennifer Samir, Rogen collaborated on the script, leaving Jeff Rowe to direct the film.

“They’re teenagers underneath shells who just want to be normal and do normal things for their age,” Rogen notes. 

When we meet them in ‘Mutant Mayhem’, Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael are living their lives confined to the sewers of New York City because their adoptive father, the mutant rat Splinter, played in this film by martial arts legend Jackie Chan, believes humans will never accept them. But the turtles have grown up and want to experience the outside world as normal teenagers. They decide to seek acceptance, hoping to win over the people of the Big Apple through acts of heroism. 

When they meet aspiring reporter April O’Neil, who is trying to take down the criminal mutant Superfly, played by rap legend Ice Cube, they see their chance to rid the city of crime.

“Seth’s vision was for the characters to look and feel like authentic teenagers because it’s a very confusing emotional moment and one that we all identify with,” Rowe admits.

Backed by a star-studded cast including Rose Byrne, John Cena, Jackie Chan, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, and Rogen himself, Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael, appear drawn by an animation style that draws inspiration from the characters in ‘Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse’.

“An art style that hopefully evokes some drawings as an unfinished work in progress, which is a very adolescent feeling,” Rowe explained. 

No doubt, the director and producer felt like they were playing with the film.

“For us, it was a project from the heart, but we took a big risk with the animation style. In this market, it’s rewarding to take risks and offer different things. We’ve tried to do something bold and exciting for people,” Rogen concludes.

‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem’ is now showing in theaters.